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Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mike Tomlin opens up about T.J. Watt contract stalemate

Pittsburgh Steelers star edge rusher T.J. Watt remains a limited performer during training camp as the All-Pro and his organization work through a contract stalemate.

As was noted recently, Watt has taken part in individual drills on the side. However, he’s not appearing on the field when the pads come on.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was asked Tuesday if the team finds itself in a unique jam with Watt — who did report to training camp, is attending meetings and is not isolating himself from his teammates.

“Not unique at all really,” Tomlin said. “You know, that negotiation process is going to run its course. Some run their courses faster than others. If I remember correctly, (Pittsburgh defensive tackle) Cam Heyward had less than 100 percent participation when he was in a similar circumstance a short time ago.”

The Watt-Steelers standoff gained some steam when reporters learned from defensive coordinator Keith Butler on Saturday why Watt had not been a full participant.

“That’s none of my business,” Butler said at the time. “I hope he signs a contract, and let’s get it done. When he gets that done, we’ll talk about that.”

To say that this is a major deal for Watt and his Pittsburgh Steelers would be an understatement. One of the best all-around defensive players in the game, Watt is only attending training camp so he’s not fined $50,000 on a daily basis. Otherwise, he’d be a holdout.

Related: Pittsburgh Steelers 2021 preview and predictions

After seeing the likes of fellow elite-level defenders in that of Darius Leonard and Fred Warner get huge extensions, Watt obviously wants his payday from Pittsburgh.

A late first-round pick back in 2017, Watt has recorded 111 quarterback hits, 59 tackles for loss, 49.5 sacks and 17 forced fumbles throughout his four-year NFL career. Last season alone, he led the league in tackles for loss (23) and sacks (15.0).

What is the end game for T.J. Watt and the Pittsburgh Steelers?

Pittsburgh-Steelers-T.J.-Watt-training-camp
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no reason to believe that the NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate won’t be on the field Week 1 against the Buffalo Bills. He’ll be ready to go.

For Pittsburgh, there’s a larger issue at hand here. Watt, who turns 27 in October, is currently slated to play 2021 on the fifth-year option ($10.09 million) of his rookie contract. He becomes a free agent next March.

While Pittsburgh would more than likely place the franchise tag on its best defender if an extension doesn’t come to fruition, we’ve seen these types of situations take a turn in the past. The Steelers can’t afford for that to happen with Watt.

(Field Level Media contributed to this report)