The Pittsburgh Steelers have just about wrapped up their external moves, ahead of the 2023 season, with general manager Omar Khan having filled 89 of 90 slots on the roster after a flurry of free agent and post-draft activity.
When the team gets done with adding players from the outside, it usually turns to business with its internal players. Khan started that process on Thursday, by inking quarterback Mitch Trubisky to a two-year contract extension.
That was light work compared to the task that waits ahead of him: an extension for outside linebacker Alex Highsmith.
Highsmith is entering the final season of his four-year rookie contract, and because the Steelers do not negotiate during the season, that means Khan has about three and a half months to get a deal done with Highsmith before he plays out his current deal.
Asked about the situation during his appearance on 93.7 The Fan last week, Khan was guarded but optimistic about the prospect of the Steelers being able to sign Highsmith to a long-term deal.
“We don’t like to talk specifically about an individual contract, but I’ll say this, he’s a Steeler,” Khan said. “Since the day he got here, he’s been awesome. He gets better and better every year, and I really hope Alex is here for a long time.”
Highsmith has gotten better year after year. He started five games in place of an injured Bud Dupree as a rookie in 2020, recording two sacks. In 2021 as a full-time starter, he raced up six quarterback sacks. Last season, he came the team’s top pass-rushing threat after the injury to T.J. Watt, and responded with 14.5 sacks, the sixth-most in the league last season.
With that resume, Highsmith is going to get paid, and the only question is by who and for how much?
According to salary tracking website Spotrac.com, Highsmith should be worth in the neighborhood of $13.9 million per year on a four-year, $55.6 million contract.
That would make Highsmith the 12th-highest paid outside linebacker in the league, with Spotrac comparing his deal to those signed by Matt Judon, Shaq Thompson, Josh Sweat and Foley Fatukasi.
With .56 sacks per game over his last two seasons before signing, Highsmith has been more prolific than all of those players, though Judon (.52 sack per game) was close. Judon signed a four-year, $54 million contract with the New England Patriots in 2021.
The $13.9 million per year average annual salary would make Highsmith the Steelers’ fourth-highest-paid player on a long-term deal, after Watt ($28 million), Minkah Fitzpatrick ($18.4 million), Cam Heyward ($16.4 million).