The Pittsburgh Steelers kicked off the first of many OTA sessions today. While it’s not a time to critically evaluate what the players are doing, it is a time to see who is there. Though most players attend, it’s technically a voluntary session and those with looming contract extensions often don’t show up or at the least, don’t practice.
But Alex Highsmith did both Tuesday. As shared in this tweet by 93.7 The Fan’s Josh Rowntree, Highsmith practiced and went through at least individual work during today’s practice at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.
Highsmith is coming off a breakout season, exploding for 14.5 sacks while forcing five fumbles. The team’s third-round pick of the 2020 NFL Draft, he’s entering the final year of his rookie deal and GM Omar Khan has expressed a desire to keep him in Pittsburgh long-term.
Highsmith later told The Trib’s Joe Rutter he intends to keep practicing while he awaits a new deal.
He also told reporters, per Rowntree, that he’s “optimistic’ about a deal being reached before the season begins, the team’s self-imposed deadline.
“I don’t really know where things stand,” Highsmith said via Steelers.com of his contract status. “I just didn’t wanna be here [not] working and stuff. I was grateful for the opportunity that I have…I really wanna be here. I’m someone who always likes to work.”
Though he declined to talk specifics, he confirmed “things are started” between his agent and the Steelers’ front office. On Pittsburgh’s end, the deal will primarily be negotiated by Cole Marcoux and Khan.
Dave Bryan has outlined what a Highsmith extension could look like. Given the team’s recent history, a deal could happen sooner than later. Last year, FS Minkah Fitzpatrick was extended in June while QB Mitch Trubisky received a new deal last week.
WR Diontae Johnson was in a similar position as Highsmith last year. After initially not showing up for OTAs, he did attend a few practices and began a hold-in during training camp before receiving a new deal in August.
Should Highsmith not reach an extension by the start of camp in late July, it’s not clear if he would also plan a hold-in. It’s become a common approach and largely replaced holdouts; the rookie wage scale and hefty fines for those under contract who skip camp have made true holdouts largely extinct. T.J. Watt went through a lengthy hold-in during 2021 before receiving his new deal late in the preseason, either spending his days doing very little or going through just individual drills.
Time will tell on Highsmith’s plan and if the Steelers can reach an extension with him. But he showed up Tuesday ready to work, a good-faith sign to the front office to hopefully begin the process of reaching a deal.