The Pittsburgh Steelers more than most teams in the NFL strife to reward their own. They’ve managed to keep talents like Cameron Heyward and Maurkice Pouncey on the payroll their entire careers. That’s also their plan for the likes of T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick. But will Alex Highsmith join them?
He is under contract for the 2023 season, but he earned himself a lot of money with a breakout year. The outside linebacker posted 14.5 sacks in 2022. Pro Football Focus believes he’s done enough to earn an early extension from the team.
Author Jonathan Macri argues for the outlet that Highsmith’s showing has him in line for another very good season in 2023. He also suggests that the Steelers’ lack of depth is a factor they will consider. Behind Watt and Highsmith, they have no notable edge rushers.
“Knowing that this will likely call for another heavy workload from Highsmith”, he writes, “the team may want to reward him early before another big year of production that causes that cost to potentially increase next offseason”.
A 2020 third-round pick, the Charlotte product served behind Watt and Bud Dupree as a rookie. He entered the starting lineup full-time in 2021, registering six sacks in 16 games. But he began the year with a groin injury and got better as it went on.
Logging 941 snaps in 2022, Highsmith’s endurance was a key part of his success as well. It’s probably no coincidence that his healthiest season was also his best. He has also consistently played the run well, reflected in 27 tackles for loss in the past two years.
The problem with signing edge rushers, of course, is that they’re expensive to keep. He’s not going to command the same numbers as Watt, but their wallets will feel it. Highsmith is currently due to play under the final year of his rookie contract. He should earn $2,743,000 due to the Proven Performance Escalator.
Macri makes no attempt at speculating what the potential contract extensions would look like for any players named. He merely cites Highsmith as a prime extension candidate this offseason. Other names include the Buccaneers’ Antoine Winfield Jr., the Chiefs’ L’Jarius Sneed, and the Patriots’ Kyle Dugger.
It’s a foregone conclusion that the Steelers’ front office will enter contract discussions with Highsmith’s agents. It’s less certain whether or not they will land on a number that suits both parties, given the large contracts already on the books.
Watt holds the highest average-per-year salary among all edge rushers in the league. Minkah Fitzpatrick is second only to Derwin James at safety. And Heyward himself still cracks the top 10 among interior defensive linemen. The simple reality is that you can’t keep everybody.