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T.J. Watt was named team MVP and was selected first-team All-Pro for the second consecutive year in 2020. He has 49.5 sacks in his first four years with the Steelers and is the odds-on favorite to win Defensive Player of the Year by the Associated Press, which will be announced at the NFL Honors show on Feb. 6. In 15 games, Watt led the league in sacks (15), tackles for loss (23) and quarterback hits (41).
The Steelers placed the fifth-year option on Watt last May and he's due to make $10,089,000 in 2021. With the amount of production that Watt has assembled in four years, he deserves a hefty pay raise and the Steelers should reach a long-term deal with him at some point this offseason.
Last July, Browns' defensive end Myles Garrett received a five-year contract extension worth $125 million. Watt should get a similar contract and probably more than Garrett. The Steelers could also arrange Watt's contract extension where it lowers his cap hit this season.
Art Rooney II spoke with Bob Pompeani of KDKA in a one-on-one interview on Thursday and was asked about signing Watt to a long-term contract extension while the salary cap for the 2021 season is currently uncertain due to the league losing revenue because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The salary cap floor for 2021 is $175 million and it's unlikely that the cap will be any close to this past year's cap limit of $198.2 million.
“In terms of T.J. Watt, it’s a good problem to have,” Rooney said. “We’re obviously going to do what we need to do to make sure he stays on the team into the future.”
Re-signing Watt should be the Steelers' No. 1 priority this offseason after they figure out the cap and sign any free agents and sign their rookie class. So like Garrett, I'd expect Watt to have his contract extended in July.
It would be hard to imagine seeing Watt's teammate and fellow outside linebacker Bud Dupree being re-signed this offseason, however.
According to Overthecap.com, the Steelers are projected to be $34,981,664 over the cap, and that's not including the $5.2 million the Steelers will save with Vance McDonald retiring last week, so the Steelers are roughly $30 million over the cap with the cap limited being estimated at $176 million. The Steelers also have 19 players that are set to become unrestricted free agents in March.
Despite the unlikelihood of Dupree returning in 2021, Rooney is considering all their options.
“We’d love to have him back,” Rooney said. “We’re not closing the door on anything.”
John Clayton was on 93.7 The Fan on Wednesday and mentioned that he expects Dupree to sign a one-year, $6 million deal because he suffered a torn ACL injury in Week 12 against the Ravens and the salary cap is expected to be lower in 2021. If that were the case, the Steelers could have a chance and re-signing Dupree. With it just being a one-year deal at $6 million, Dupree most likely would turn that down, rightfully so.
Dupree laughed at Clayton's notion on Twitter.
Dupree along with Devin Bush both suffered season-ending ACL injuries in 2020. Bush suffered his injury in Week 6 against the Browns. Rooney thinks the Steelers wouldn't have had collapsed down the stretch if they had Dupree and Bush on defense.
“Obviously if we didn’t suffer a couple key injuries on that defense, I think that would have made even a bigger difference for us,” Rooney said.
Watt and Dupree are quite the duo at outside linebacker as they combined for 19 sacks up until Dupree tore his ACL in the Week 12 game against the Ravens. In 2019, Watt and Dupree combined for 26 sacks, which was 1.5 sacks shy of tying the franchise record when James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley combined for 27.5 sacks in 2008 as an outside linebacker duo.
Dupree said on the NFL Network's "Good Morning Football" on Wednesday that Watt should be honored as DPOY for his outstanding 2020 season.
"T.J. is just one of a kind," Dupree said. "You see it each and every week. Week in and week out. He is an animal. He is going to come in every day and prepare like it's the Super Bowl each and every day. He is going to want to do extra work after practice, see different stuff on film with the coaches, maybe pick a couple of people on the team's brain, what they saw during the week that we didn't get a chance to see. He is always prepared and that is why he plays the way he does."