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NFL Draft

Is T.J. Watt’s Week 1 Status In Doubt?

  • The Draft Network
  • September 6, 2021
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There’s a good chance the Pittsburgh Steelers will take the field for their Week 1 contest against the Buffalo Bills without their best defender. Watt continues to be a limited participant at practice while waiting on a new contract. The Steelers would like to see him practice in a full capacity before he takes the field, and his status for Sunday’s game is now in doubt, per ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.

Steelers fans have a legitimate reason to be concerned about Watt’s potential absence this weekend. If his contract dispute officially carries over into the regular season, it would likely thrust recently-signed veteran Melvin Ingram and sophomore pass rusher Alex Highsmith into the starring roles. The 32-year-old Ingram played in just seven games with the Chargers last season and failed to record a sack. Highsmith is a second-year player that impressed in limited action a year ago, but there’s no denying that he greatly benefited from playing behind the likes of Watt and Bud Dupree. Asking Highsmith to be the guy on Sunday would be a tall ask, to say the least.

The Steelers took a hit opposite Watt when Dupree departed the Black and Yellow for a lucrative contract in Tennessee in the offseason, and it appears their attempts at replacing him and creating depth at the position could be tested right out of the gate.

The Bills gave up just 27 sacks a year ago and feature a tough unit up front that still includes quality players such as Dion Dawkins and Mitch Morse. Quarterback Josh Allen is extremely athletic and tough to bring down. Whether he’s escaping pressure with his legs or shaking off would-be tacklers in the pocket, Allen presents a challenge for every pass rusher he comes across. Things will be no different on Sunday, and Allen would surely find a way to take advantage of a Watt-less defense. 

For the reasons I’ve laid out, I don’t love Pittsburgh’s chances against the Bills should the situation between the Steelers and Watt remain at an impasse, causing him to miss Sunday’s contest. The Steelers need to resolve Watt’s contract situation as soon as possible. They already let one cornerstone edge defender leave in free agency a year ago and they couldn’t possibly do the same with Watt, right? They know they’re going to pay him. Watt knows they’re going to pay him. Why let this facade carry on any longer?

If Pittsburgh’s defense hopes to be as good in 2021 as they were in 2020, it will have to be with a newly-paid Watt spearheading the unit for the second year in a row. There’s no way around that. They need to make peace with their star pass rusher and pay him. There’s no time like the present.

The longer this goes on, the more Pittsburgh will see how much they miss Watt, and the more leverage he’ll gain in contract negotiations. If Pittsburgh really intends on dragging this out, we could see it negatively impact them in the “loss” column.

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