3 reasons the Steelers need to sign J.J. Watt in free agency
Seeing defensive end J.J. Watt wearing a jersey other than that of the Houston Texans is going to take some getting used to, but it has come to that after Watt and the team recently agreed to part ways. Watt’s phone should be buzzing with recruiting pitches as he hits free agency (he has already noted how wild it is), and the Pittsburgh Steelers are one destination frequently discussed as a potential landing spot.
Now, Watt is a 3-4 defensive end, and the Steelers already have that position locked up with Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt. It is important to note that these two are some of the highest-paid players on the team.
Still, this doesn’t mean Pittsburgh should stay away from Watt. Here are three reasons why the Steelers should be in pursuit in free agency.
3. Brotherly Reunion
Admittedly, this is the least important reason for the Steelers. Signing Watt would reunite him with his brothers, T.J. and Derek, who play linebacker and fullback, respectively. You can already see the Maximum Wattage shirts they would be selling at Heinz Field.
It is difficult to quantify this, but Watt being able to play with literal family might improve his and their play. Watt might play inspired football for the whole season and be a game-wrecker. Perhaps T.J. would be able to make another leap and win Defensive Player of the Year. Maybe Derek would be more productive.
Signing Watt would not make the Steelers the Super Bowl favorite, but it would be a step in that direction. In the recently concluded season, Pittsburgh had a buzzsaw defense that made life miserable for opposing quarterbacks. Hopefully, if Watt’s production and veteran leadership were on board, the Steelers would avoid another late-season meltdown. Watt would help make an elite defense even better.
2. Locker Room Presence
Watt is about as high character as they come, and he even previously won the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award. The Steelers have had their fair share of locker room issues and shenanigans among its players in recent years. You can devote a whole chapter just to Antonio Brown, and who could forget the Le’Veon Bell drama.
Watt would bring a positive influence to Pittsburgh. He would be a valuable mentor to the young guys on the roster and motivate other veterans to push themselves. While we can’t exactly say that Watt brings a winning culture with him, he does have a winning mentality. This is the guy who apologized to quarterback Deshaun Watson because the team wasted a year of his prime. A strong culture with lots of accountability is one of the most underrated ingredients in making a Super Bowl contender.
1. Impact and Production
Watt’s position is not exactly the biggest need of Pittsburgh this offseason. Had Watt retained more of his burst, he could fill in for outside linebacker Bud Dupree, who is a free agent. Watt may be willing to take a pay cut for his next team, but he likely wants to play a starting role. One solution for the Steelers to make Watt fit in the starting lineup would be to play either him, Tuitt, or Heyward at nose tackle.
This is a stretch for several reasons, but it could work. First, all three men are rather tall for the position, which might affect their leverage against opposing linemen. Next, whoever plays nose tackle would inevitably see a drop in their numbers, as the nose tackle’s job is usually to occupy double-teams and provide openings for their teammates. Lastly, it is not their natural position. The easy solution is to use Watt as a rotational piece, but that would be like driving a sports car in first gear all the time.
Despite all of this, there is this sports adage of getting the best player available. While Watt has lost some of his explosiveness due to age and injuries, it is not often that a player of his caliber is available on the open market. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year played in 16 games last season and finished with 52 tackles and 5.0 sacks. In the 2018 season, he managed to get 16 sacks.
For the longest time, Watt was one of the best players in the league, even when including offensive players in the ranking. At his peak, he was arguably the most valuable non-quarterback player. Regardless of where Watt lines up next season, he will still attract double-teams and make his teammates look good. Pass rushers will have clearer lanes to get to the quarterback. He should still be stout against the run. If Watt regains even a sliver of his old form, he will cause headaches for opposing offensive coordinators, which is why the Steelers should take a chance on him.