The Pittsburgh Steelers just reportedly broke off edge rusher T.J. Watt with a monster four-year deal worth more than $112 million with $80 million fully guaranteed Thursday, making him the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL.
That deal is particularly interesting for Washington fans, being that they have a young defensive end believed by many to have Defensive Player of the Year potential. But while Chase Young's rookie deal isn't up for another three seasons, Washington's other first-round pass rusher, Montez Sweat, is only under control for another two years.
If he blossoms into anything close to the dominant presence Watt has over the next two years, Sweat could potentially play his way off of the Washington Football Team. It's not that they wouldn't want to have him, but it's hard to imagine they'd be able to pay both him and Young that much, assuming Young also continues to develop into the dominant pass rusher everyone expects him to be.
Sweat, the 26th overall pick in 2019, has never been hailed in the same way as Young, who drew Hall of Fame comparisons before he even took an NFL snap, but his NFL path isn't much different than Watt's, if not better. Both were three-star talents coming out of high school. Watt went to Wisconsin, where he recorded all 11.5 of his career sacks as a junior before being drafted 30th overall by the Steelers in 2017. Sweat eventually ended up at Mississippi State where he averaged 15 sacks as a junior and senior and was drafted 26th overall by Washington in 2019.
Before Watt blossomed into the three-time Pro Bowler he is today, would it have surprised anyone that Sweat turned out to be the better player? And although the comparison isn't apples-to-apples, being that Watt is a 3-4 linebacker, they both make their money rushing the passer and their career numbers over the course of their first two seasons are very similar:
Watt: 20 | Sweat: 16
Tackles for loss
Watt: 22 | Sweat: 20
Watt: 34 | Sweat: 33
Watt: 7 | Sweat: 4
Watt: 10 | Sweat: 8
Watt: 1 | Sweat: 1 (returned for TD)
If Sweat wants to put himself in the same realm as Watt, he'll of course need a breakout third season. That's when Watt recorded 14.5 sacks in 2019 before upping it to a league-leading 15.0 sacks and second-place DPOY finish last year. It's a lofty goal, but not unreasonable to think he could hit especially considering the attention Young will demand on the other side of their line.
More importantly, it's a goal Sweat wants to accomplish. He's previously stated the desire for him and Young to break the sack record for a pair of teammates, which is currently 39. That would require each to near 20 sacks in a single season and would undoubtedly require Washington to break the bank to pay both. In the more realistic scenario that they both fall well under that, each could still have as many sacks as Watt's career-high.
If Sweat and Young each ascended to that level of play, would the team be willing to offer them both a contract in the stratosphere of what Watt just commanded? Maybe, especially considering they don't have a QB of the future demanding a big payday anytime soon, but that's also a lot of money to dedicate to one position. It's probably just as likely Sweat plays himself into a franchise tag and potentially onto another team.