PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Steelers his optimistic that the organization will reach a new deal with outside linebacker T.J. Watt before the start of the season on Sunday, and regardless of whether that happens or not, he expects Watt to be a full participant in practice on Wednesday.
“I remain optimistic that something is going to get done from a deal perspective,” Tomlin said during his weekly press conference on Tuesday. “That aside, I’m expecting him to work tomorrow. I’m proceeding with the assumption that he will work tomorrow.”
Tomlin later clarified that he expects Watt to be a full participant in practice on Wednesday, instead of just doing individual drills, as he has done since the start of training camp.
Despite not participating in any padded practice sessions or preseason games, Tomlin was optimistic that Watt will be able to play on Sunday in Buffalo if he does in fact practice on Wednesday, comparing Watt’s holdout to a similar one by Aaron Donald in 2018.
“Guys like those guys routinely do what others can’t,” Tomlin said. “I’d probably be lying if I told you I’d be surprised if he didn’t perform and perform well.”
Even if Watt does play, Tomlin said it’s reasonable to expect that he will be unable to play his usual number of repetitions. He expressed confidence in the ability of Melvin Ingram to the fill whatever void is left by Watt’s unavailability or absence.
If he doesn’t practice on Wednesday, the chances of him participating in the season opener would obviously go down. Tomlin declined to give a “tipping point” for a time Watt would have to begin practicing in order to play against the Bills.
Watt is under contract for the 2021 on a fully guaranteed, $10.09 million contract that is the fifth-year option of his rookie contract. The Steelers have the ability to put the franchise tag on Watt for up to two seasons beyond 2021, if they don’t work out a deal with him.
The Steelers do not negotiate contracts with pending free agents during the season, putting an artificial deadline of this week on getting an extension done. If Watt does not sign an extension before the season, the team can still negotiate with him from the end of the season until at least March, when franchise tags must be assigned, and if they tag him, until July.
Watt has made no public statements about what he is looking for in his first free-agent contract.