The Pittsburgh Steelers made Derek Watt one of the highest-paid fullbacks in NFL history in 2020 when they signed him to a three-year, $9.75 million contract. That’s relative peanuts compared to any other starter on offense or defense, but at the time there was only one player at the position who was paid more.
Of course, he was really brought in to become a core member of the special-teams units and a captain, which he did manage to accomplish over his three seasons in Pittsburgh. The Steelers started to be more active in using him last year in short-yardage situations and he even scored two touchdowns.
But the 30-year-old is now an unrestricted free agent, idling toward a month since the new league year began. And according to Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “there has been no movement on re-signing him to this point in the offseason”, as he mentioned in a recent chat.
Watt played 835 special teams snaps for the Steelers over the past three seasons, including 290 for the 2022 season. It was not his best year in that regard, however, registering only four tackles in comparison to the eight in 2020 and 14 in 2021.
As mentioned, while Watt only played 77 snaps on offense, he was given more opportunities to contribute in various ways. He saw a career-high nine carries, for example, all in short-yardage situations, producing seven first downs and one touchdown. His only failure came against the Las Vegas Raiders. He also caught five passes for 11 yards, one of which was a 1-yard touchdown from former Steelers wide receiver Chase Claypool.
Derek Watt is one of the more fascinating players in recent years to discuss because of the role he has played in fandom theories. Signed in 2020, some convinced themselves that he was brought in to more easily work out a contract extension for his superstar younger brother, T.J. Watt, who won the Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2021, the same year he signed the new deal.
Now that T.J. is locked up for years yet, of course, the front office can afford to let his older brother go, having gotten what they wanted. They can always sign Derek to a one-day deal on the day that they consummate his next extension years from now and pull a switcheroo.
Or perhaps they simply don’t intend to re-sign him because they feel his value has run its course and they want to pursue other avenues, such as expanding Connor Heyward’s role going into next season. He, too, is a core special-teams player and has the body of a fullback—and he played better than Watt did in 2022.
Then again, for all we know, they will still re-sign him. It wouldn’t harm anything if they were to do so, and I’m sure if that happened it would be on a much more team-friendly deal. The way this offseason has gone, I wouldn’t expect him to sign for more than the veteran minimum.
In the meantime, he gets to enjoy some moments at home with his growing family, which is not such a bad thing. The Steelers can call him in July and tell him to strap his pads on if that’s how they want to play it.