T.J. Watt Will Assuredly Be the Highest-Paid Defensive Player in the NFL Thanks to 1 Simple Steelers Rule

Pittsburgh Steelers edge rusher T.J. Watt might be the youngest of the Watt brothers, but he’s about to become the highest-paid player in the NFL.

No, this isn’t a declaration that a deal is imminent. Watt is orchestrating a hold-in as he looks for new money in the final year of his current contract. However, the Steelers must sign Watt before the start of the season unless they plan on breaking one of their own negotiating principles.

T.J. Watt is due for a massive contract extension

T.J. Watt has a legitimate argument as one of the two best defenders in the NFL.

Watt and Los Angeles Rams star defensive tackle Aaron Donald were the only two defensive players to post an overall grade of 90 or higher in the last two seasons, per Pro Football Focus (PFF). The Steelers edge rusher narrowly missed out on winning 2020 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, though he had a clear case for the award.

The 26-year-old led the NFL with 15.0 sacks and 23 tackles for a loss this past season. He also racked up a whopping 41 quarterback hits, constantly making opposing signal-callers feel his presence in the backfield. It’s not just that he rushes the passer and stuffs the run. Watt is excellent when dropping into coverage and batting balls at the line of scrimmage, finishing with at least seven passes defended in three of his first four seasons.

Watt has now earned back-to-back All-Pro selections and has made the Pro Bowl in each of the last three seasons. He is unquestionably one of the best defenders in football and will be paid accordingly.

It’s a matter of time before the Steelers make Watt the highest-paid defender in football

Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tweeted Monday that Steelers fans should expect a Watt contract extension that would make him the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL. It’s unknown whether this was concrete reporting or opinion, but it may as well be etched in stone.

As Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk noted, the Steelers have a few internal rules regarding contract negotiations with players. Most importantly, the first rule is that Pittsburgh does not negotiate once the season begins. The second is the Steelers often refrain from negotiating extensions with players unless they are in the final season, which is also pertinent in Watt’s case.

Watt is entering the final season of his rookie contract. Thus, he would seem to qualify for an extension. The Steelers are also unlikely to let Watt reach the open market.

Unless they plan to break a hallowed organizational rule and negotiate in-season, that means Watt is about cash out. Donald and LA Chargers edge rusher Joey Bosa currently share the highest total value at $135 million, with Bosa pacing all defenders in total guarantees ($78 million) and the highest annual average value ($27 million). However, it would be a bit of a surprise if Watt did not surpass Bosa in at least two of those three categories.

Perhaps Pittsburgh is merely biding its time, but the “highest-paid player” label should soon go to the star edge rusher.

The Watt brothers are setting up for a strong 2021

Steelers edge rusher T.J. Watt looks on during the team's preseason game against the Detroit Lions
Watt should see a nice payday soon | Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Watt brothers will have a lot to be thankful for as the 2021 season gets underway.

Even for a player with his pedigree, J.J. probably made more in the way of guaranteed money ($23 million) than most football fans might have expected. He will try to help an upstart Arizona Cardinals team make the leap in a crowded NFC West.

Meanwhile, T.J. was already teammates with his older brother, Derek, who signed a three-year deal with the Steelers last spring. T.J. now figures to get a contract of his own, one that should make him the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL.

Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.

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