T.J. Watt's guarantee: More money just means more work to help Steelers win a ring

By Brian Batko

PITTSBURGH — Anticipation is one of T.J. Watt's strong suits as a tenacious pass rusher. He hasn't racked up more sacks in his first four seasons than any player in Steelers history without it.

But he put that skill to good use Friday afternoon at the news conference where he addressed the record-setting, four-year, $112 million extension he agreed to Thursday. When the questions came about living up to the richest deal ever for a defensive player in the NFL, let alone in Pittsburgh, Watt was ready.

"I'm built for this," Watt said from the indoor practice complex at team headquarters on the South Side, with general manager Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin standing just a few feet to his right. "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.

"I know exactly what it takes. I've been doing it my whole life. It's about just continuing to do it and staying hungry. And I guarantee everybody here right now, and everybody in this building, I am still hungry."

Since the Steelers made him the 30th selection in the 2017 draft, after just one season as a starter at Wisconsin, Watt has considered it his job to prove them right. Back then, it was about the first-round pick they invested in him. Now, it's about the dollars.

Right up there with anticipation is the need for football players to have a short memory in this game. You get knocked down? Get back up. Allow a touchdown? Shake it off.

Watt's an edge rusher who was certainly on edge over the past few weeks, but he will have a selective memory off the field when it comes to what led up to the Steelers rewarding his production with an unprecedented $80 million in guaranteed money. There was more than a month's worth of training camp and preseason practices in which he did not participate in full-team drills. There was the aspect of his teammates, including captains Ben Roethlisberger and Cam Heyward, thoroughly supporting him publicly via media interviews. The line was drawn between the player and the organization, which is never easy for either side.

"When you go through something like this and you're trying to stand up for what you believe in and you're doing it by yourself, having reassurance of the people that you care about their opinion the most means a lot," Watt said. "And there are definitely some moments through this whole process where you do feel like you're almost by yourself. That's why it's so important that those guys said those nice things."

Watt declined to get into specifics of the negotiations, so we may never know what exactly he was asking for, the timeline of it all, whether the Steelers met him in the middle, or if he made an executive decision to take the deal. He did share that his agents called him after Thursday's practice with the news that they had an offer — a substantial one, clearly.

"Are you serious?" Watt asked. "This isn't a joke?"

No, T.J., the Steelers really did decide to break from a longstanding tradition and guarantee you more money than any player who came before. Which means you'll be out there Friday for practice, Sunday in Buffalo and for the next five years with the hypocycloids on your helmet.

"There's a sense of relief, to be quite honest with you," Tomlin said.

Indeed, the Steelers can now turn their full attention to the season that awaits, starting with the defending AFC East champion Bills. Before heading over to the podium Friday, Watt had a conversation with Colbert and Tomlin about how "special" the 2021 Steelers can be. If that's true, it will surely have much to do with the defense, one that has led the league in sacks four years running.

"A Super Bowl is definitely, definitely a true possibility," Watt said. "I believe that in my heart of hearts, and I'm going to do absolutely everything I possibly can to make that happen."

And he'll be paid handsomely to do so. First thing Watt purchased with his newfound wealth? Chipotle for dinner Thursday night.

Soon, he'll be moving his fiancee to Pittsburgh with him full time so they can settle down for the next five years, at least. The back-and-forth, will-he-or-won't-he of this offseason will be just a footnote in a Hall of Fame story, if all goes according to plan.

"This is a dream to play for an organization like this, and it's everything from on the field to off the field," Watt said. "On the field, it's a 3-4 defense, and I'm an outside linebacker. That is a player's dream. To play for 'Blitzburgh,' to play for this city, to play for the fans is also a dream. And to play for the Rooney family is also a dream. It's incredible. I get chills talking about it. Being a part of an organization that has such a rich tradition — it's not some billionaire who came in and bought a team and started it because he had all this money. This is a team built off tradition, and it goes so much deeper than just football."

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