The hold-in is over. After a summer of attending but not fully participating in practice while seeking a long-term contract, star Steelers pass rusher T.J. Watt has cashed in on a record four-year extension, CBS NFL insider Jason La Canfora has confirmed. NFL Network reports the deal is worth more than $112 million, making the former first-round draft pick the highest-paid defensive player in the league.
Watt, who was set to become a free agent after this season, will earn an average of just over $28 million per year on the new deal. That per-year average tops the most recent records for a defensive-player salary, set by Chargers pass rusher Joey Bosa ($27M) and Browns defensive end Myles Garrett ($25M). Watt’s contract also includes $80 million in fully guaranteed money, per Rapoport, another record for a defensive player.
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The lucrative extension comes a day after Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger advocated for Watt to get “whatever he wants” in negotiations with Pittsburgh. And it locks the club’s best edge rusher into the lineup not only for Week 1, when the Steelers open their 2021 season against the AFC runners-up in the Bills, but for another four seasons. The Steelers were under increasing pressure to secure Watt in the wake of fellow pass rusher Bud Dupree’s departure earlier this offseason.
The 26-year-old Pro Bowler, Watt is widely considered one of the NFL’s top and ascending players, entering 2021 as a favorite to capture Defensive Player of the Year honors. Drafted 30th overall out of Wisconsin in 2017, he logged a career-high 15 sacks and league-leading 23 tackles for loss in 2020. That came after two other consecutive double-digit-sack seasons, with Watt notching 13 in 2018 and another 14.5 in 2019. He’s also modeled durability as one of the club’s top outside linebackers, missing just two games in his four NFL seasons.