Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has made his feelings about linebacker T.J. Watt abundantly clear: he's the best in the game, and the Steelers should pay him like it.
Watt, the 2020 AFC Defensive Play of the Year, and the Steelers have been negotiating on a new contract for months. With the regular season starting in a matter of days, the pressure is on to get a deal done. Roethlisberger stepped into the fray Wednesday, telling reporters that Watt should get whatever he's asking for.
“I think T.J. should get whatever the heck he wants. He’s arguably the best football player in the game right now, not just on defense."
Then Roethlisberger reminded everyone — including the Steelers' front office — why he took a $5 million pay cut and restructured his deal during the offseason.
"I’ve been through a few negotiations here with contracts, and one of the reasons I took less money is for guys like him to get paid. He deserves every penny he asks for. T.J. is that guy who should get whatever he wants.”
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Watt and the Steelers have already agreed on a deal that would make him the highest paid defensive player in the NFL. The snag is guaranteed money. The Steelers reportedly won't meet Watt's guaranteed money demand. (The Steelers traditionally don't guarantee money beyond the first year of a deal with a veteran player.)
Will Watt play without a new deal?
Roethlisberger isn't shy about standing up for his teammates, but his involvement here signals something larger: The Steelers' unwillingness to give one of the best defensive players in the league what he's asking for has the potential to impact the team as a whole.
While Watt has been at every practice and participated in individual drills since the start of training camp, he hasn't taken part in any team practices. Head coach Mike Tomlin doesn't usually allow anyone to play in a game if they haven't practiced with the team, so if Watt doesn't participate in Wednesday's practice, Watt's status is in question for the Steelers' Week 1 game against the Buffalo Bills.
Despite that, Tomlin said Tuesday that he believes a deal will get done and Watt will be at practice.
"I remain optimistic that something is going to get done from a deal perspective," Tomlin said Tuesday via ESPN. "That aside, you know, I'm expecting him to work tomorrow. I'm proceeding with the assumption that he's going to work tomorrow. You know, that's kind of the approach that I'm taking."
Regardless, Roethlisberger said that everyone in the locker room understands Watt's situation.
“Problem is, when you negotiate new contracts it’s not always two-sided," Roethlisberger said via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "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. I mean, the guy was here every single day and probably didn’t need to be. He should get taken care of.”