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If you are making a list of the best defensive players in the NFL, you won’t get far before you come to Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt. Since coming into the league in 2017, Watt has continued to ascend among the ranks of the best all-around defenders in the league. Last season Watt led the league with 15 sacks.
Sounds like a guy the Steelers want to keep around, right? Watt enters the final year of his rookie contract and will make almost $10.1 million in 2021 thanks to his fifth-year option. But Watt is going to be looking for and has earned a big raise.
According to ESPN, Watt is the number one free agent for 2022. Here’s what ESPN had to say about Watt and his contract.
Since Watt entered the league in 2017, only two players have more sacks: Aaron Donald and Chandler Jones. At the moment, it seems preposterous to think the Steelers would allow a two-time All-Pro edge rusher to depart before his 28th birthday. And it’s worth noting that the Steelers have less salary-cap space committed to their 2022 roster than any other team in the NFL ($84.3 million).
With the Steelers favorable 2022 salary cap situation, there’s no chance the Steelers will let him leave via free agency. But the Steelers typically don’t like to let their top players get to that point in the first place. This would be the time of year when the Steelers would announce a big extension for a player like Watt but with very little money to spend will the Steelers have to change their philosophy?
Another factor that plays into this is Watt’s 2021 season. If he has an even bigger 2021 season, his asking price will only go up. Good news for Watt, bad news for the Steelers. Or I suppose it could work the other way and if Watt struggles this season, he will lose some of his bargaining power.