With the Steelers’ season opener approaching and T.J. Watt still unsigned, it came down to the wire.
Watt and the Steelers agreed to terms three days before Pittsburgh’s game against the Bills, making the multi-time All-Pro the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player.
Watt’s journey to get there was not without its setbacks, but it all worked out in the end. Watt will enter the 2021 season as the league’s highest-paid defender, making it even more important to follow up.
“Man, I’ve been dealing with pressure my whole life,” Watt said Friday, via ESPN’s Brooke Pryor. “I’m built for this. And I truly believe that nothing monetary will change me as a person. The work that I put in will not change. It will only grow.”
Watt led the league in a variety of defensive measures last season. He’s now poised to take the top in terms of remuneration.
Watt agreed to a four-year contract extension worth more than $112 million, with a guaranteed $80 million. On an annual basis, he earns $28.003 million.
“It’s my job to prove all these people that have put this amount of money to me and stood on the table to say they want me here, to prove them right. I know I can do it,” Watt said. “I know exactly what it takes. I’ve been doing it my whole life. It’s just about continuing to do it and staying hungry. And I guarantee everybody here right now and everybody in this building, I am still hungry.”
Watt was owed a basic salary of $10.08 million in the fifth and final season of his rookie contract when the Steelers picked up his first-round option. He’s now in a different league, having established himself to be among the NFL’s finest and being compensated accordingly.
According to Next Gen Stats, Watt is coming off a season in which he was the NFL’s top disruptor, leading the league with 80 disruptions at a league-high rate of 18.4 percent. With 15 sacks and a league-high 23 tackles for loss, the Steelers’ pass rusher is the reigning NFL sack king. He also recorded 41 quarterback hits, which was a career high.
Watt’s emergence as one of the league’s best defenders – the debate over whether Watt or Rams’ Aaron Donald should have won the AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year last season is still raging – has been the catalyst in the Steelers defense’s transformation into a dominant force over the past two years.
Watt has been selected to the Pro Bowl three times in a row and has been named to the All-Pro team twice in a row.
Watt is a playmaker, as proven by his 49.5 sacks, 17 forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, and four interceptions over the last four seasons.
Watt and Pittsburgh deserved a new contract, but it took a long time to get one.
Watt said he feels “fantastic” and is ready to go heading into the Steelers’ season opener against the Buffalo Bills, with his contract negotiations behind him and his attention focused on the opposing quarterbacks in front of him.