The 2021 NFL offseason has been unlike anything we’ve seen before. For the first time since the salary cap was implemented in 1994 there was a reduction in the number causing teams to have to make tough decisions and get creative with their contract structures this year.
For example, the Pittsburgh Steelers began implementing void years into their contracts this offseason in order to lower the salary cap number for 2021. The Steelers did this with Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Sutton, Eric Ebron, and JuJu Smith-Schuster.
With all these deals and contracts going on, what contract has been deemed the best that the Pittsburgh Steelers have on their books? The obvious follow up question is: Which one is the worst?
Pro Football Focus recently outlined what each AFC team’s best and worst contract is going into the 2021 season. This is based off of their metrics and scoring, so the conclusions they come to may not fall in line with the typical thinking.
First of all, rookie contracts don’t count. These deals are almost always the best as players are controlled for the Steelers for at least four seasons at a reduced rate.
Before looking at PFF‘s results, remember this is coming from a source which is not always over-familiar with the Steelers. They are probably looking at each one based solely on numbers and not spending much time debating if it’s actually true. It you are expecting these conclusions to hold up well to scrutiny, you may be disappointed.
So which contract did PFF deem the best for the Steelers? Shockingly, it’s from the third-highest salary cap number for 2021 in defensive end Stephon Tuitt.
Best: Interior defender Stephon Tuitt — Five years, $60 million ($0 in remaining guarantees)
Cameron Heyward is the interior defender with name recognition in Pittsburgh, and for good reason, but Stephon Tuitt is a star in his own right. Since signing this extension in 2017, Tuitt has earned an 89.0 PFF grade (16th among interior defenders) with an 81.5 pass-rush grade (11th among interior defenders). His 29 tackles for loss or no gain also rank 11th among interior defenders, and his 170 pressures rank 10th.
With two years remaining on his deal, some believe Stephon Tuitt could do a restructure in order to save the Steelers some cap space. Unfortunately, being a subject which I’ve talked about extensively, a restructure for Tuitt does bring some complications based on the fact his contract was signed under the old Collective Bargaining Agreement and the fact the NFL added a 17th game.
What is interesting is that PFF feels the Steelers are getting great value for Tuitt, but the fact that he signed his contract in 2017 meant that they were playing 2017 prices. So it does make sense in that regard.
So what about the Steelers worst contract going into 2021? For that one, PFF went with the second-highest paid fullback in the NFL who only saw 52 offensive snaps in 2020.
Worst: Fullback Derek Watt — Three years, $9.75 million ($0 in remaining guarantees)
This is one of those contracts that falls in the poor relative value category. Watt is the second-highest-paid fullback in the NFL, at $3.25 million per year — one of just seven fullbacks making more than $1 million a year. In his first season in Pittsburgh in 2020, he finished with the 16th-best grade (42.0) among 19 fullbacks who played at least 25 offensive snaps. He does provide special teams value, but that’s probably not enough to justify this contract.
It’s hard to argue against the choice of Watt being the worst contract the Steelers have at this time. The bigger question is if it’s a bad contract.
As PFF mentioned, it’s the special teams aspect Derek Watt brings to the table which is also a factor. Honestly, I would look at Derek Watt more as a special teams player who also plays fullback. In 2020, Watt saw four times as many snaps on special teams in the 12 games he was healthy.
If comparing Watt to another special teams player who only fills in occasionally at their primary position, a good place to start would be former seventh-round draft pick of the Steelers in Tyler Matakevich. Last season in Buffalo, Matakevich saw 343 special team snaps while only 72 defensive snaps in 16 games. If looking at the snaps on a per-game basis to compare to Derek Watt since he only played in 12 games, they line up very similar.
In looking at the contracts of these players, Matakevich signed a two-year deal for $7.15 million going into 2020 while Watt signed a three-year deal for $9.75 million. With Matakevich signing an extension for another year for about $2.5 million, their contracts end up being extremely similar.
In other words, Derek Watt is getting paid on par to a top-notch special teams player who also is a reserve on defense. Add in the fact that Steelers could use Watt more on offense in 2021, and the value might be slightly better. The biggest questions that remain are if Watt is a top-notch special teams player himself, and will be actually be used more on offense in 2021.
Honestly, it will probably take another season before determining if Derek Watt has a bad contract or not. But classifying it is the worst one on the Steelers right now isn’t far-fetched.
So what do you think? Did PFF get these contracts right? Are there other contracts which you would deem better than Stephon Tuitt or worse than Derek Watt? Make sure you leave your thoughts in the comments below.