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The Pittsburgh Steelers are just a few short days away from kicking off their 2021 NFL season. Even though the team took steps in the offseason to rebound from its epic late-season collapse in 2020, it still hasn’t paid star pass rusher T.J. Watt.

The outside linebacker wants to be the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL, but the Steelers haven’t gotten it done yet. This lack of progress caused star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to jump into the fray. He sent a stern message to his team that it should do the deal, no matter what it takes.

T.J. Watt and the Pittsburgh Steelers are at a contract impasse

T.J. Watt will play the 2021 season under the $10 million fifth-year option the Steelers tacked on to his initial four-year, $9.25 million rookie deal.

He seemingly wants to be the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL, though.

The player from Wisconsin has sat out of training camp for the entire preseason because Pittsburgh has yet to finalize a new deal. Watt is hesitant to put his body on the line without securing his long-term future.

In 2020, Watt saw several of his teammates go down with season-ending injuries, including his outside linebacker running mate, Bud Dupree. The pass rusher is understandably hesitant to put his body on the line with no guarantees past this season.

Watt and his agents have threatened to sit out games if the Steelers don’t address the contract. However, he did return to practice for the first time this season, four days ahead of the team’s heavyweight matchup against the Buffalo Bills.

Ben Roethlisberger thinks the Steelers should pay Watt whatever he wants

At least one person in the Steelers organization agrees with Watt and his camp. Ben Roethlisberger thinks the pass rusher needs a big raise.

Responding to questions from a gaggle of reporters, the 39-year-old quarterback said that the organization needs to pay the star defender. He even referenced the fact that he restructured his deal to help the organization retain top talent:

I think T.J. should get whatever the heck he wants. He’s arguably the best football player in the game right now. Not just on defense, just in general. I’ve been through renegotiations here with contracts. One of the reasons I took less money was for guys like him to get paid, and he needs to get paid. He deserves every penny he wants and asks for. T.J. Watt is that guy that should get whatever he wants.

Ben Roethlisberger on his Pittsburgh Steelers teammate T.J. Watt

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Roethlisberger wants the team to retain as many talented pieces as possible for this year and the near future. Despite what aging QBs like Tom Brady and Drew Brees have done in recent years, the Miami (OH) product has precious few years left in the league and needs to win this season or maybe next if he hopes to add to his legacy.

Watt is one of the best defensive players in the NFL 

(L-R) Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looks on during the preseason game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Pittsburgh Steelers on August 12, 2021 at Lincoln Financial Field; T.J. Watt of the Pittsburgh Steelers in action during training camp at Heinz Field on July 29, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
(L-R) Ben Roethlisberger T.J. Watt | Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images; Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images.

Becoming the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL isn’t a stretch for T.J. Watt. The former Badger has stepped out of his famous brother’s shadow and become one of the best players in the league in his own right.

Over four seasons in the NFL, Watt has started 62 of a possible 64 games in Pittsburgh, recorded 49.5 sacks, 230 tackles, and 111 QB hits, forced 17 fumbles, and made four picks. He is a three-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro.

In 2019, he led the league in forced fumbles with eight, and, in 2020, he was No. 1 in sacks (15.0) and tackles for loss (23).  

Leading into 2021, he is No. 6 on the ESPN list of the top 100 NFL players, No. 9 on the NFL Network’s list, and No. 11 according to PFF.

No matter how you look at Watt, he is inarguably one of the best all-around players in the NFL and deserves to be paid like it. The fact that the Steelers haven’t done so yet is a major problem, and you can already see it disrupting the organization and putting a cloud over the upcoming season.

Just ask Ben Roethlisberger.

All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference and contract figures courtesy of Spotrac


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