PITTSBURGH (AP)Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler acknowledged that linebacker T.J. Watt isn’t practicing because he has yet to sign a long-term contract.
Watt has been on the field doing individual work, but he hasn’t practiced with his teammates during training camp workouts at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. Butler was asked after Saturday’s practice whether or not there was a timeline for Watt to get involved in team drills.
”That’s none of my business,” Butler said. ”I hope he signs a contract. When he gets it done, then we’ll talk about that.”
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Saturday that he wouldn’t speculate on Watt’s return to team participation.
”I’m just focused on today and who’s working and getting better that way,” Tomlin said. ”I’m sure that’s going to naturally run its course. I know (Watt) is working hard with our trainers, so we’ll see where it all leads us.”
Watt is entering the final year of his contract, but the two-time All-Pro said he never gave any thought to holding out in hopes of reaching a long-term deal. Team officials have previously communicated interest in signing Watt, but per a longstanding team policy, the Steelers don’t negotiate contracts once the regular season begins.
”I love this team, I love all of the coaches and this staff here, and the players,” Watt said on the first day of training camp. ”I am excited for this season, and that’s why I’m here.”
Butler has been on the staff in Pittsburgh since 2003 and he took over for Dick LeBeau as defensive coordinator in 2015. He also enjoyed a 10-year pro career as a linebacker, all with the Seattle Seahawks.
Butler was asked if Watt wasn’t participating in team drills because of his contract status.
”I don’t blame (Watt) for that because you don’t want to get hurt when you’re trying to get your contract done,” Butler said. ”You tend to lose some flexibility. I hope they get it done. As a former player, I want them to make as much money as they can in this league. I think they deserve it.”
Watt led the league with 15 sacks last season, but he finished second to Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald for the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year Award. He’s the third player since 2006 – joining Donald and older brother J.J. Watt – to make at least 15 sacks, 23 tackles for loss and 40 quarterback hits in a season, all marks, which led the league. Watt joined Pro Football Hall of Famers Reggie White and Derrick Thomas as the only players to get at least 13 sacks in three of his first four seasons since 1982, when the individual sack became an official NFL statistic.
Watt, entering his fifth NFL season, is one of the longest-tenured members of the Steelers defense. He was made a defensive captain for the first time in 2020, and the first defensive player to be chosen team MVP in back-to-back years since James Harrison.
Butler doesn’t believe Watt’s contract status will be a distraction to the defense.
”Everybody knows T.J., and everybody knows he’s a good teammate,” Butler said. ”He really wants to be out there. Some things you just have to do. This is a business. We all love to think that it’s a game, but when it’s all said and done, it’s a business.”
NOTES: Tomlin, in response to a report that surfaced on Friday, said on Saturday that fourth-year wide receiver James Washington hasn’t expressed dissatisfaction of his role or a desire to be traded. ”Those unnamed sources, we don’t react or respond to,” Tomlin said. ”James has been great here, working and having a good camp.”
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