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Will T.J. Watt return to practice this week?

If there is no deal in place, will Watt take the practice field to prepare for Week 1?

Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

It’s what almost every Pittsburgh Steelers fan has been waiting for for weeks. Sure, Steelers’ Nation was excited to see the team get back on the field for the Hall of Fame Game followed by the other three preseason games. But throughout the entire summer, what many have been waiting for is to get the two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year finalist T.J. Watt locked in with a long-term contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Once mandatory minicamp ended in June, anyone following the sometimes exhausting entity known as ‘Steelers Twitter’ would hear how fans were ready for this deal to be done. Personally, I didn’t see a deal coming before the month of September as it’s typically when these things happen when it comes to the Steelers and some of their bigger contracts which aren’t done in the spring. But with T.J. Watt not dressing at practice for any activities involving contact, he’s been involved in what some have deemed a ‘hold in’ until he signs his new contract.

But what happens if a deal is not made prior to the start of the 2021 NFL season?

I got together with an old friend this past week I hadn’t seen in years. Being a fellow Steelers fan, he says the news of a T.J. Watt contract is basically all he’s been waiting for and he’s otherwise waiting until the regular season to dive into everything else going on with the team. I have a feeling he’s not alone. There have been very few subjects brought up among Steelers fans which don’t eventually turn to the question of T.J. Watt and his contract.

I’m not going to get into the ins and outs of what a T.J. Watt megadeal would look like. I’m not going to estimate the years or dollar amount or guaranteed money. This is simply about whether a new deal is signed or if Watt is set to play the 2021 season on the fifth-year option which will pay him over $10 million, which is more than his previous four seasons combined.

Anyone who follows the Pittsburgh Steelers should know the deadline when it comes to working out a deal. Once the Steelers take the field in the regular season, they have a policy of not doing new contracts with any players. This has not always been the case, but when certain players received new deals in-season when others did not, it caused some division in the locker room and the Steelers have just made it a policy to avoid it altogether.

Hoping to get a deal done, I actually didn’t have a problem with T.J. Watt skipping the 2021 preseason and not risking injury as things were getting worked out. It’s not that Watt has not attended meetings or been staying in excellent physical shape throughout this process. From what has been reported, T.J. Watt has been at practice every day. The only thing that’s been missing is putting on the pads and lining up with the rest of his teammates when the ball is snapped.

So when does it end? What happens if the deal isn’t signed in the next day or so and the Steelers take the practice field in preparation to take on the Buffalo Bills in Week 1 of the regular season? Will T.J. Watt be a part of the preparation and game plan, or will the contract details keep him working out on the side even longer?

Personally, I think will see T.J. Watt getting ready to take the first snaps for the Steelers defense for the 2021 regular season. I expect him to be in full gear when the Steelers begin the typical in-season week of preparation on Wednesday. Of course, the deal could still come at any moment which makes the whole question void. But if the deal isn’t signed, I don’t see T.J. Watt’s ‘hold in’ turning into a ‘hold out’ where he doesn’t play for the 2021 season. Remember, this is my opinion.

Ultimately, I hope this article becomes absolutely useless minutes after it’s published. I hope the T.J. Watt news breaks at any time. That’s what Steelers fans have been eagerly awaiting for so long that any mention of a potential deal has them on the edge of their seat.

Also, I don’t want this personal opinion to turn into what so many others have done when they have expressed their views. When a reporter on the Steelers said what they believe will happen with a Watt contract, Steelers fans have jumped all over it and assumed that it was exactly what was coming even though that is not what was meant at the time. Fans have been so eager for this news they even believed it would break during or immediately after the Steelers final preseason game because one respected insider gave his opinion that it would happen once the preseason games were over.

As we reach one week until the Steelers kickoff in Buffalo, the question of when the deal will be reached is just as important as the question of what happens when it isn’t. Will T.J. Watt be at the facility on Monday for what is expected to be a ‘bonus Monday practice’? When the Steelers release their first injury report following Wednesday practice, will T.J. Watt be listed as a player who did not participate?

The answer to these questions is something that most Steelers fans don’t want to hear anymore as it has been what they have been doing for weeks, if not months.

We’ll just have to wait and see.