T.J. Watt became the NFL's highest-paid defensive player Thursday.
The 26-year-old outside linebacker agreed to a four-year contract extension with the Steelers worth a reported $112 million. NFL Media's Ian Rapoport reported the deal includes $80 million guaranteed. The extension will begin in 2022, meaning Pittsburgh can keep their best linebacker through 2025.
The $28 million average annual value places Watt ahead of Chargers pass-rusher Joey Bosa ($27 million) as the league's highest-paid defensive player.
Sources: The #Steelers and star pass-rusher TJ Watt have a mega-deal. He’s going to sign a 4-year extension worth more than $112M — $28.003M average per year — with $80M fully guaranteed at signing. The highest paid defensive player in football. 💰 💰 💰— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) September 9, 2021
The agreement ended a lengthy contract dispute between Watt and the Steelers. Watt is playing this year on the $10.1 million team option Pittsburgh exercised in the offseason.
The main issue was freeing cap space. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger agreed in March to lower his salary from $19 million to $14 million in the final year of his contract, saving the Steelers around $15.3 million in space, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported.
Ben Roethlisberger willingly reduced his pay to $14M from $19M in this final year of his contract and spread the cash payment through 2022, per source. It lowered the cap hit by over $15M, all so the team can make the right moves to be as competitive as possible this season.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 4, 2021
As negotiations continued through training camp and the preseason, defensive coordinator Keith Butler said that Watt withheld himself from participation in practice. He was a full participant for the first time Wednesday.
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The Steelers' first-round pick (30th overall) in the 2017 NFL Draft led the league with 15 sacks and 23 tackles for loss in 2020. He was second to Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald in voting for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Watt has placed in the top three in voting each of the past three seasons.