After lengthy contract negotiations that extended all the way into the closing moments of training camp, Watt and the Steelers agreed on an extension that sees him make $112 million over four years. This average annual salary of $28 million makes Watt the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history.
This is terrifying news for the rest of the league, for more than one reason.
The Steelers’ D-Line will continue to be elite
On a basic level, Watt’s new $100-plus million extension is unsettling news primarily for the AFC North and the rest of the AFC. Watt has racked up 49.5 sacks since debuting in 2017, is a three-time Pro Bowler, and a two-time All-Pro. He has firmly established himself as one of the best defenders in football, with many viewing him as a favorite to win Defensive Player of the Year in 2021.
The Steelers consistently field one of the best defensive lines out there year after year. Even with Bud Dupree leaving via free agency this past offseason, the duo of Watt and Cameron Heyward will continue to dominate opposing offensive lines moving forward.
With Watt set to be around for the next five years as Pittsburgh’s main building block on defense, their pass-rush will presumably remain among the NFL’s best.
Almost time to pay up for Nick Bosa
Watt continuing to terrorize opposing quarterbacks is the most pressing issue to the NFL. However, the other major message that the Steelers sent with this lofty extension is that NFL front offices better pay up to retain their stud pass rushers.
Even with Watt’s extension making him the highest-paid defender in league history, it’s been reported that his agents felt he could have commanded even more money by pushing off contract talks later into the season. Watt refused to execute such a tactic due to his desire to remain with the Steelers. However, it’s an eye-opening realization as to just how valuable defensive ends are in the NFL.
Star DE Nick Bosa isn’t set to hit free agency for another few years, but San Francisco would be wise to pounce on a deal before the expected price tag balloons up to $30-plus million per season.
Brian Burns in Carolina is another young pass rusher who is likely to pursue record-breaking money with his next contract.
The Steelers were wise to get this extension done
Ultimately speaking, it’s not the Steelers’ job to worry about how Watt’s extension affects the rest of the NFL. They worked aggressively to get this done and can move forward knowing their best defender is under contract for the next five years.
It’s unclear how good the Steelers will be in 2021. Ben Roethlisberger is on his last legs, and the offensive line has begun to wear down. However, that doesn’t negate the importance of having a DE like Watt on the roster.
To the rest of the NFL? Take notice. The price tag for elite pass rushers will only continue to rise as the years go by.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.