Coach Mike Tomlin has been vague when asked about Watt’s absence in those drills, saying Saturday that Watt has been “working hard with our trainers.”
Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler, though, says he doesn’t expect to have Watt truly on the field until he and the team come to terms on an extension — one that could reset the market for edge rushers.
“That’s none of my business,” Butler said when asked about the timeline for Watt’s return. “I hope he signs the contract and gets it done, and when he gets that done, we’ll talk about that.”
Watt, 26, has been at each of the Steelers’ 12 practices and traveled to Canton, Ohio, for the Pro Football Hall of Fame game against the Dallas Cowboys last Thursday. He has participated in some individual drills and spends many of the team periods conditioning with defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt.
“I don’t blame him for that because you don’t want to get hurt when you’re trying to get your contract done,” said Butler, a former linebacker himself, of Watt’s absence in team periods. “You kind of lose some flexibility in terms of what kind of contract you can sign. So, I don’t blame him for that. I hope they get it done. As a former player rep for the players’ association when I came out, I’ve always been for the players. I struck twice for the players. I knew I wasn’t going to get the money that they get. I want them to make as much money as they can in this league. I think they deserve it.”
Watt finished second to Aaron Donald in Defensive Player of the Year voting last season after racking up 15 sacks, two forced fumbles, an interception and 23 tackles for loss. Entering his fifth and final year of his rookie deal, Watt has declined to talk about his contract situation with the Steelers this offseason. Because of his well-earned reputation as a hard worker and team leader, Watt’s absence isn’t a distraction, Butler said.
“Everybody knows T.J,” Butler said. “Everybody knows that he’s a good teammate. He wants to be out there. He really wants to be out there, but some things you’ve got to just do. This is a business. We all love to think it’s a game, but when it’s all said and done, it’s a business.”
Steelers president and owner Art Rooney II said it’s his goal to get a new contract done with Watt prior to the start of the regular season. It’s the Steelers’ policy not to negotiate contracts during the regular season.
“We’d like to get T.J.’s deal done, if we can, before the start of the season,” Rooney said earlier this week. “That’s the goal.
“… I try not to get optimistic or pessimistic. I’ve seen these things go so many different ways over the years. We’re just going to do our best, and I think both sides want to get something done, so that’s always a good thing.”