Now that three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year JJ Watt has been released by the Houston Texans, that’s news opened the tap for speculation that he could join the Steelers to play with his brothers, TJ and Derek.
While such a move would work wonders for social media and local Subway sandwich franchises, I want Steelers fans lobbying for such a move to answer the following questions:
• How much will JJ Watt cost?
• What position will he play?
• Which veteran on the current roster are you willing to lose as a result of signing him?
• How valuable would the signature be given his age, health history and productivity?
So let’s take on that task.
Given the NFL’s shrinking salary cap this year, Watt better be willing to enroll in Pittsburgh for the veteran minimum or get damn close to it. After the retirement of Maurkice Pouncey and Vance McDonald, the Steelers are still on track to be about $ 30 million over the limit based on a projected total competition of $ 180 million.
Why would Watt do that as teams of similar status in the AFC like the Tennessee Titans or Indianapolis Colts might be willing to contract him for a lot more money? Not to mention the New England Patriots or the Green Bay Packers in Watt’s native Wisconsin. Maybe even the Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers when they lose pass-rushing ace Shaq Barrett in free agency.
Then there is the question of where Watt would play in the Steelers defense. It was listed at 288 pounds last year. That’s about 20 pounds heavier than Bud Dupree if the goal were to get him to replace Dupree just outside the linebacker, creating the Watt brothers’ bookend that so many in “Steeler Nation” seem to crave.
The more natural position in the Steelers defense would be in the finishing position where the highly compensated and effective players Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt already reside.
Keep in mind that Watt is about 10-15 pounds lighter than those guys. That can show up in the run game, and when you consider that those two usually run onto the field within the two edge slots in the fronts of the Steelers sub-pack.
One thing I keep seeing on Twitter is “Just move Tuitt to nose tackle and let JJ start on the left for TJ”
Okay, why would you move the guy with 11 bags (Tuitt) in it to the nose for Watt, who only had five bags last year three in the past 13 weeks
Not to mention that he was part of a Texan defense that last season was against the point while Watt was on the field 91.4% of the team’s defensive shots
On top of that, the Steelers only played a real version of their 3-4 defense 39% of the time anyway, with sub-packages accounting for the remaining 61%. It’s part of the reason Tyson Alualu, who had a surprisingly effective move to that position last year, is considered expendable as a free choice. Even though his ability to exert pressure from the nose likely played a role in allowing that base look to stay on the field about 8% more often than the past two seasons.
Then there’s Watt’s age, 31, and his history of injuries. Admittedly, he played all 16 games last year. But in the 2016, 2017 and 2019 seasons, he missed a total of 32 games.
So let’s go back and answer those four questions to find out how a Watt signing might actually happen.
• If he’s willing to sign for the veteran minimum (or get close to it) so that he can play with his brothers, even though other teams are likely to bid much more.
• Whether he is willing to take on a rotating pass-rushing role with Tuitt and Heyward in sub-package situations.
• If the team is willing to lose Alualu and find his replacement together with Watt.
Alualu may have left for more money after all and would now know for sure if his snap count as the best sub in pass-rush situations for Heyward and Tuitt disappears. And if Watt soaks up anything close to Alualu’s $ 3.62 million last year, that could prevent the team from retaining Cam Sutton or Mike Hilton.
• If Watt’s hit count diminishes and he focuses only on chasing the passerby in short bursts, he can help himself and Tuitt and Heyward in the long run by keeping them fresh in games with more quality minutes than what was provided when people like Henry Mondeaux, Carlos Davis, Chris Wormley or Isaiah Buggs filled in last year. But again, now they would need someone who can effectively handle the role of nose gear in basic defense.
In another year, with fewer needs and more flexibility to address the existing needs, I could see a rationale for the signing beyond the “unite the Watt brothers” argument in view of fun training camp stories and networking for game show content.
But in a year when the Steelers may have to replace as many as six starters and two major reserves with limited resources and a 24th draft position, considering a luxury on the defensive side shouldn’t be high on the team’s ‘to do’ list. stand.
Especially when you consider that this team was leading the NFL in bags, even without Dupree having registered one for the last six games due to an injury.
But why should logic let sweater sales and Twitter traction get in the way?
Tim Benz is a writer on the Tribune Review staff. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or via TwitterAll tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless otherwise specified.
Sports | Steelers / NFL | Breakfast With Benz
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