T.J. Watt may still be J.J. Watt’s little brother, but he now owns the family’s biggest bankroll.
The Pittsburgh Steelers made their All-Pro pass rusher the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history in terms of average annual salary, Watt agreeing to a four-year extension worth more than $112 million Thursday, a person with knowledge of the deal told USA TODAY Sports. Watt will also get $80 million in guarantees. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal had not been announced publicly.
Chicago Bears linebacker Khalil Mack owns the largest compensation package ($141 million over six years) among defenders, but Watt’s arrangement overtakes Los Angeles Chargers pass rusher Joey Bosa in terms of topping the charts on a yearly basis. Bosa’s pact averages $27 million per season over five years.
Watt returned to practice this week after “holding in” throughout training camp, a recent tack for players seeking new contracts given the new collective bargaining agreement mandates irrevocable fines for those who don’t report.
“One of the reasons I took less money was for guys like him to get paid,” Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who renegotiated his contract to reduce his salary cap charge for 2021, said Wednesday.
“And he needs to get paid. He deserves every penny that he wants and asks for. T.J. Watt is that guy who should get whatever he wants.”
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A first-round draft pick in 2017 and Pro Bowler the past three seasons, Watt has collected 42½ sacks – including a league-best 15 in 2020 – 98 quarterback hits and 16 forced fumbles since 2018. He was recently ranked as the league’s ninth-best player in an NFL Network survey of the league’s players.
Watt’s negotiations nearly reached an unofficial 11th hour given the Steelers have a long-standing policy of not addressing player contracts once the regular season begins. He was set to earn $10.1 million in 2021, the final season of his rookie contract.
Pittsburgh opens its season against the Buffalo Bills in Western New York on Sunday.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.