The problem with being a team that generally drafts and develops well is that, eventually, it becomes unsustainable that you will be able to retain all of your talent under the salary cap. There are going to be guys who price themselves out of your range, and you’re going to have to be able to go back to the well and find the next one.
That’s why the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Alex Highsmith in 2020, knowing that they would likely lose Bud Dupree in free agency the following year. That’s exactly how it happened, with Dupree signing with the Tennessee Titans, and Highsmith stepped into a full-time role this past year. Those around him, including fellow edge rusher T.J. Watt, may feel better about his own season than he does.
“I think he’s taken a big jump. It was very unfortunate that Bud [Dupree] got hurt at that back half of his rookie season, but it allowed Alex to get a lot of those game reps and be able to have a little bit better transition into his second year”, Watt told reporters about Highsmith during Thursday’s Pro Bowl practices. “I know he didn’t get the stats that he wanted, but I tell him, it’s not about stats, it’s about playing your game one play at a time, and those plays will come”.
Highsmith started 16 games last season, despite battling injuries, finishing the year with six sacks, 15 hits, 15 tackles for loss, and a forced fumble. He added another sack in the postseason, as well. This offseason, he intends to work with Watt and his brothers up in Wisconsin, with a reporters suggesting that he could become the fourth brother.
“He’d fit in well”, T.J. said with a smile. “I always tell guys, training back home is different than everywhere else, just because it’s so football-specific. I’m not training to be a professional bench presser. I’m trying to be the best football player that I can be, so it’s always a little bit unique, and different from what guys are used to training like”.
Not that you need reminding at this point, but T.J. is the youngest of three brothers in the NFL, with Derek on the Steelers’ roster as their fullback. J.J. is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, having been in the league for 11 years. He started the Watt training facility back in their home state, and the other brothers joined.
I don’t know how many teammates may have gotten invited to work with them up there over the years, but I’m guessing that number isn’t too high. T.J. and Highsmith clearly have a close relationship, which isn’t too surprising, since they seem to share a similar demeanor and work ethic. Highsmith could certainly do worse than to follow Watt’s example.