With the Steelers’ 2022 season unfortunately now in the rearview mirror, a 9-8 campaign that came up short too late in spite of a strong second half, we now turn our attention to the offseason, and the many decisions that will have to be made over the course of the next several months.
This is now a young team on the offensive side of the ball, though one getting older on defense, and both sides could stand to be supplemented robustly, including in the trenches—either one. Decisions about the coaching staff must also be made, as well as who to prioritize in free agency, and what to look for from the outside, before getting to the draft.
These sorts of uncertainties are what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
Topic Statement: Derek Watt will re-sign with the Steelers on a one-year contract at or near the veteran minimum.
Explanation: Special teamers who are good at what they do fairly earn multi-million-dollar salaries, and Derek Watt was certainly good at what he was asked to do over the past three years in Pittsburgh. Even with an expanded short-yardage role on offense, however, his making north of $3 million per season on average may be hard to justify.
I’m going to tell you the biggest reason that Derek Watt will re-sign with the Steelers on a cheap deal this year. Aside from the fact that he wants to be in Pittsburgh to be around his family, he also knows that he’s just a year away from being paid well.
That’s because of the four-year player qualifying contract that was put into place in the last CBA. A player who serves four consecutive uninterrupted seasons with the same team will be eligible to be paid up to $1.25 million more than he counts against the cap. That number goes up to $1.45 million in 2024.
This is the deal they did with Terrell Edmunds last year. He pocketed close to $2.5 million but his cap hit was under $1.2 million. If Watt wants that kind of stable annual money, he would have to be with another organization for four years, and he may not even be in the league four years from now.
Beginning in 2024, with seven credited seasons, he could earn a veteran minimum base salary of $1.21 million plus another $1.45 million that won’t count against the cap. Add in a small signing bonus and he is closer to $3 million per year than $2.5, and the Steelers pay less than $1.5 against the cap.
That’s a nice theory, but it starts with the premise not only that the Steelers want him back, but that they won’t have other four-year qualifying contracts they want to sign others to, and these numbers cited above are team maximums. The Steelers were able to give Edmunds an extra $1.25 million in 2022 because they didn’t have anybody else they wanted to give that contract to. They may in two years’ time. Somebody like Chris Wormley, for example.
I’ll pause while you vomit.
Additionally, as suggested, they could be looking to make changes on special teams. They drafted Connor Heyward, who could be Watt’s all-around replacement. Both sides want to get a deal done. And perhaps Watt wants to move back to Wisconsin, especially if J.J. is going to move back there in retirement. Or maybe he even decides to retire as well. It’s not like the family doesn’t have money.