Steelers’ T.J. Watt on weight of being top-paid defender: ‘I’m built for this’

Steelers’ T.J. Watt on weight of being top-paid defender: ‘I’m built for this’

It came down to the wire with the Steelers’ season opener beckoning and T.J. Watt still unsigned.

However, three days prior to Pittsburgh taking the field against the Bills, Watt and the Steelers agreed to terms that made the multi-time All-Pro the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player.

Though there were bumps in the road to get there, it all worked out for Watt. Now, following it up becomes paramount, as Watt will hit the 2021 season with the tag of being the league’s top-paid defender.

“Man, I’ve been dealing with pressure my whole life,” Watt said Friday, via ESPN’s Brooke Pryor. “I’m built for this. And I truly believe that nothing monetary will change me as a person. The work that I put in will not change. It will only grow.”

Watt led the way in myriad defensive statistics a season ago. Now, he’s set to lead the way in the paycheck department.

Watt signed a four-year extension worth more than $112 million, with $80 million guaranteed. On a yearly basis, he’s bringing in $28.003 million.  

“It’s my job to prove all these people that have put this amount of money to me and stood on the table to say they want me here, to prove them right. I know I can do it,” Watt said. “I know exactly what it takes. I’ve been doing it my whole life. It’s just about continuing to do it and staying hungry. And I guarantee everybody here right now and everybody in this building, I am still hungry.”

Entering the fifth and final season of his rookie deal after the Steelers’ picked up his first-round option, Watt was due a base salary of $10.08 million. Now he’s in another stratosphere, having proven himself to be among the NFL’s elite and now being paid as such.

Watt is coming off a season in which he was the NFL’s top disruptor, having led the league with 80 disruptions at a league-high rate of 18.4%, per Next Gen Stats. The Steelers’ pass rusher is the reigning NFL sack king, having tallied 15 sacks to go with a league-high 23 tackles for loss. He also had a career-high 41 quarterback hits.

The 30th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, Watt’s emergence as one of the league’s best defenders – the argument is still raging as to whether Watt or the Rams’ Aaron Donald should’ve won last season’s AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year – has been the catalyst in driving the Steelers defense to become a dominant entity over the past two years.

Along the way, Watt has earned three consecutive Pro Bowl selection and two straight All-Pro nods.

Watt is a playmaker as evidenced by his 49.5 sacks in four seasons, 17 forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and four interceptions.

Getting a new contract was warranted but had lingered for Watt and Pittsburgh.

Heading into the Steelers’ season opener against the host Buffalo Bills, Watt said he feels “great” and is ready to go with his contract talks behind him and his focus now on the opposing quarterbacks in front of him.

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