T.J. Watt may not practice with Steelers until contract extension is reached, coordinator suggests

Scott Taetsch / Contributor

Steelers training camp is more than two weeks old and the team has yet to see one of its biggest stars on the field. To this point, All-Pro pass rusher T.J. Watt hasn’t taken part in a single session. Head coach Mike Tomlin noted on Saturday that Watt has been “working hard with our trainers” but didn’t divulge further when he may get back on the practice field. However, defensive coordinator Keith Butler said that he doesn’t expect to see Watt back until he comes to terms on a contract extension with the Steelers that makes him one of the league’s highest-paid edge rushers. 

“That’s none of my business,” Butler said when asked about Watt’s return, via Brooke Pryor of ESPN. “I hope he signs the contract and gets it done, and when he gets that done, we’ll talk about that.”

Watt is entering the final year of his contract is currently set to make over $10 million for the 2021 season after the club picked up his fifth-year option. Whenever he signs his extension, the 26-year-old has a chance to set the market at the position. Currently, Joey Bosa is the highest-paid edge rusher with an average annual salary of $27 million. An extension for Watt will likely be in that neighborhood. 

Despite Watt not practicing during team drills, he has been present for each training camp practice and traveled to Canton for the Hall of Fame Game last Thursday. 

“I don’t blame him for that because you don’t want to get hurt when you’re trying to get your contract done,” Butler said of Watt not participating in team drills. “You kind of lose some flexibility in terms of what kind of contract you can sign. So, I don’t blame him for that. I hope they get it done. As a former player rep for the players’ association when I came out, I’ve always been for the players. I struck twice for the players. I knew I wasn’t going to get the money that they get. I want them to make as much money as they can in this league. I think they deserve it.”

Last season, Watt led the NFL in sacks (15) and finished second in the Defensive Player of the Year voting, only losing out to Rams superstar Aaron Donald. Through four seasons, Watt has 49.5 sacks and 59 tackles for a loss. 

The Steelers historically do not negotiate contracts in-season, so the team is threading the needle to get a deal done with Watt. Team president Art Rooney II said that the Steelers will try to reach an extension with Watt “by the start of the season.”

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