Not since Le'Veon Bell have the Steelers had this high-profile of a contract negotiation as the only currently going on with T.J. Watt. Pittsburgh fans are certainly hoping things turn out better with Watt than it did with Bell, who sat out the entire 2018 season before signing elsewhere the following offseason. As was the case with Bell, guaranteed money is reportedly one of the issues that the two sides are currently trying to iron out.
While present for each of Pittsburgh's practices, Watt did not participate in any team drills during training camp, although Mike Tomlin expects the three-time Pro Bowler to play in Sunday's season-opener against the Bills. Watt did practice on Wednesday, a positive sign that the two sides will come to terms on an extension sometime soon. Ben Roethlisberger, who agreed to restructure his contract this offseason in order to help the Steelers' cap situation, was asked to weigh in on Watt's situation during his media availability on Wednesday.
"I think T.J. should get whatever the heck he wants," Roethlisberger said of Watt, who finished second in last year's Defensive Player of the Year voting. "He's arguably the best football player in the game right now, not just on defense, just in general. I've been through a few negotiations 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 that he wants and asks for.
"T.J. Watt is that guy that should get whatever he wants."
Tomlin offered a positive assessment of Watt's first full practice with his teammates. The Steelers practiced outside despite a consistent downpour.
"I thought he looked good," Tomlin said, via Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "He was engaged. He has been full participant in walk-throughs. He's a smart guy. He can learn from watching others and it's evident in watching him work today."
As far as his lingering contract is concerned, it does not appear that Watt's situation is having any impact on team chemistry.
"There's a lot of young guys that don't understand that process because they haven't been through it," Roethlisberger said. "That's why I think I'm able to speak with T.J. a little bit and talk to him. I think the feeling in the room is mutual in the sense that we all know how great he is and what he deserves. Everyone on this level (points to the practice field) at least."
Roethlisberger understands the balancing act between asking for what you are worth while also trying to make sure that other key players can be retained for the long haul. Along with Watt, the Steelers will also have to work on two-time All-Pro free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick's contract sometime over the next year. And while Watt is surely considering the team's situation, he is also trying to secure his first longterm contract, a fact that isn't lost on Roethlisberger and his teammates.
"It's tough," Roethlisberger said. "I've been here long enough where it was easy enough for me to say that because I know what it takes [to win]. But he's trying to sign his first big deal. He's a Defensive Player of the Year (candidate). He is. Everyone in this locker room understands and knows that. He should understand and know that. The problem is when you negotiate and do contracts, it's not always two-sided. When the higher-ups are in charge, there's only so much you can do.
"We all feel bad for T.J. Everyone knows how bad he wants to be out there. The guy was here every single day (in training camp) when he probably didn't need be, busting his butt. He should be taken care of."
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