2023 Free Agents Analysis FB Derek Watt – Unrestricted

Player: Derek Watt

Position: Fullback

Experience: 7 Years

Free Agent Status: Unrestricted

2022 Salary Cap Hit: $4,713,334

2022 Season Breakdown:

A career high in touches on a career low in offense snaps played (per game). That’s the story of Pittsburgh Steelers fullback Derek Watt’s 2022 season. He only played 77 snaps on offense, fewer than he played the year before, but touched the ball almost four times as often.

In all, he recorded nine rushes on the season for 21 yards. That sounds a lot worse until you realize that they all came on 3rd and 1 and that eight of them produced a first down or a touchdown. He also caught five passes for a whopping 11 yards, but one of them—thrown by former Steelers wide receiver Chase Claypool of all people—found the end zone. It was his first season with multiple scores.

But we shouldn’t be spending so much time talking about what really constitutes under four percent of his snaps. Because he played another 63 snaps on offense and 290 more snaps on special teams. The latter is what he was brought in to do above all.

And…truth be told, this wasn’t his best season as a special teamer. But it was far from bad, either. He made some plays, missed some plays. There’s no reason to think he can’t play as good in that area as he did the year before.

Free Agency Outlook:

Let’s start by breaking down Watt’s 2022 cap hit. He signed a three-year, $9.75 million contract in 2020. He was paid $2.75 million for the 2022 season. The rest of that nearly $2 million reflected in his cap hit comes from his original signing bonus (of $3.25 million) plus proration from restructuring his contract in 2021 to create cap space. His original cap hit for 2022 was ‘only’ going to be $3,833,333 before the 2021 restructure, with $2.75 million paid in base salary, having already earned and pocketed $7 million in 2020 and 2021.

Now, what’s he worth in 2023 and beyond? Over $3 million? I certainly hope not. I can’t imagine any other team out there is going to offer him that large of a contract. And J.J. Watt declaring himself all in on Steelers fandom doesn’t make it sound like Derek has any interest in going anywhere else.

As I’ve already talked about elsewhere, Derek is highly incentivized to remain in Pittsburgh in 2023 regardless of what the offer is because in doing so, he would qualify for a Four-Year Player Benefit contract that would allow him to earn over $2.5 million per season with a reduced cap hit for the Steelers.

It wouldn’t be completely shocking if he were to be re-signed for the league minimum this offseason with that end in mind. Or the Steelers could give him a bit larger contract, perhaps up to $2 million or so, to stick around and serve as a core special teamer. Perhaps with an increased offensive role as well as we began to see last season.

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