The Steelers have a few unofficial contract rules, over and above the rules set forth in the CBA. First, they don’t negotiate once the season starts. Second, they rarely renegotiate a deal with more than one year remaining on it (except for quarterbacks and for moving money around, like they did twice with Antonio Brown). Third, they don’t fully guarantee money beyond the first year of the contract.
The first one becomes the most important to linebacker T.J. Watt, a non-practicing hold-in who is due to earn $10.189 million in 2021, the final year of his rookie deal. If the deal doesn’t get done in 20 days, it won’t -- unless the Steelers violate their own rule.
Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has made this observation, which may be a report or a prediction, or someone in between: “Now that the preseason is almost over, expect T.J. Watt to sign a contract extension shortly after the Carolina game that will make him the league’s highest-paid defensive player.”
With Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa currently the highest-paid defensive player in new money at $27 million per year, that means Watt will be getting a major payday. If Watt will be besting Bosa by $100,000 per year at $27.1 million in annual new money, that translates to a four-year, $108.4 million extension or a five-year, $137 million extension. Throwing in the money he’s due to make this year, that becomes (at signing) a five-year, $118.58 million deal ($23.7 million at signing) or a six-year, $147.19 million deal ($24.53 million at signing).
The question then becomes the full guarantee at signing. Beyond the signing bonus and first-year salary, Watt will have only injury guarantees in 2022 and beyond, unless the Steelers deviate from their usual approach to such contracts.
Whatever the details deal may be, and regardless of whether Dulac is reporting or speculating or somewhere in between, the clock is ticking toward the pulling of the plug on contract talks. It appears that, for now, there’s no reason to think that negotiations aren’t on track for a new agreement to be reached.