Mike Tomlin 'optimistic' Steelers and T.J. Watt will agree to new contract

By Gerry Dulac

PITTSBURGH — The Steelers and T.J. Watt have yet to finalize a new contract that is expected to make their All-Pro outside linebacker the highest paid defensive player in the NFL because they cannot agree on several items, most significantly the amount of guaranteed money, according to several team sources.

Coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday that Watt — who has been with the team since the start of training camp but has yet to participate in a regular practice — will be a “full participant” at practice Wednesday when the team returns from an off day.

“I remain optimistic something will get done from a deal perspective,” Tomlin said at his weekly news conference. “I’m expecting him to work tomorrow, that’s the approach I’m taking.”

With the start of the regular season just five days away, the Steelers and Watt appear to have settled on the length and amount of a new contract but have not agreed on his average salary and how much of the deal is guaranteed. Unlike a lot of NFL teams, the Steelers do not do guarantee contracts beyond the signing bonus and first-year salary.

Tomlin indicated Watt will play in Sunday’s opener in Buffalo, but he does not expect the star pass rusher to be his normal self.

“We’ll play it by ear,” Tomlin said. “What I’m not going to do is assume he’s regular or normal. Guys in the position he’s in are in that position because of their unique talents, skill sets and will. I remember several years ago I watched Aaron Donald here in town for the vast majority of July and August when he was in a similar circumstance, and I was not surprised when he got to L.A. and performed immediately to an Aaron Donald standard. Guys like those guys routinely do what others can’t. I have that perspective on his readiness and the anticipated quality of this play.”

If Watt doesn’t sign a new contract before the season opener Sunday in Buffalo, it doesn’t mean he won’t get a deal done soon.

While the Steelers have a long-held policy of not negotiating contracts during the regular season, they will sign a player after the start of the season if they had already been negotiating with him during the preseason.

That’s what happened in 1995 when the Steelers signed safety Darren Perry to a new contract on Sept. 20, 17 days after the start of the regular season, because they had been negotiating with him since training camp.

The Steelers want to get a deal done with Watt, and the sides could still reach agreement before the opener in Buffalo or even after, according to a team source.

Nonetheless, it has been a strange arrangement between the sides since the start of training camp: Watt agreed to report and work solely on individual drills, while the Steelers agreed to not have him practice or play until his new deal is completed.

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