PITTSBURGH (AP) – Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler admitted that linebacker TJ Watt is not training because he has not yet signed a long-term contract.
Watt was in the field doing individual work, but he did not practice with his teammates during training camp at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. Butler was asked after Saturday’s practice session if there was a schedule for Watt to participate in team exercises.
“That’s none of my business,” said Butler. “I hope he’ll sign a contract. When he’s finished we’ll talk about it. “
Steelers trainer Mike Tomlin said Saturday that he wouldn’t speculate on Watt’s return to team involvement.
“I’m just focusing on today and who is working and getting better that way,” said Tomlin. “I am sure it will take its course. I know (Watt) works hard with our coaches, so we’ll see where it all leads us. “
Watt is going into the final year of his contract but the two-time all-pro said he never thought of holding out in hopes of a long-term deal. Team officials have previously expressed an interest in signing Watts, but according to a longstanding team policy, the Steelers will not negotiate any contracts after the start of the regular season.
“I love this team, I love all the coaches and this staff here and the players,” said Watt on the first day of the training camp. “I’m looking forward to this season and that’s why I’m here.”
Butler has been on the Pittsburgh staff since 2003 and assumed the position of Defensive Coordinator for Dick LeBeau in 2015. He also enjoyed a 10 year professional career as a linebacker, all with the Seattle Seahawks.
Butler was asked if Watt does not participate in team exercises because of his contract status.
“I’m not blaming (Watts) for not wanting to get hurt trying to get your contract done,” Butler said. “You tend to lose some flexibility. I hope you can do it. As a former player, I want you to make as much money as possible in this league. I think they deserve it. “
Watt led the league by 15 sacks last season but finished second to Los Angeles Rams Defensive Tackle’s Aaron Donald for the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year Award. He is the third player since 2006 – along with Donald and older brother JJ Watt – to have scored at least 15 sacks, 23 tackles for loss and 40 quarterback hits in one season, all marks leading the league. Watt joined the Pro Football Hall of Famers Reggie White and Derrick Thomas as the only player to receive at least 13 sacks in three of his first four seasons since 1982, when the single sack became an official NFL statistic.
Watt is entering his fifth NFL season and is one of the longest-serving members of the Steelers defense. He was named defensive captain for the first time in 2020 and became the first defensive player to be named team MVP in two years since James Harrison.
Butler doesn’t think Watt’s contract status will distract the defense.
“Everyone knows TJ and everyone knows he’s a good teammate,” said Butler. “He really wants to be out there. Some things just have to be done. This is a business. We all like to think it’s a game, but when all is said and done it’s a business. “
NOTES: Tomlin said Saturday in response to a report surfaced Friday that fourth year receiver James Washington had not expressed dissatisfaction with his role or a desire to be acted upon. “We either respond or do not respond to these unnamed sources,” said Tomlin. “James was great here, worked and had a good warehouse.”
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