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Was T.J. Watt’s contract designed for a 2022 restructure?

All the money will come due on the salary cap by the end of the 2025 season, the only question is how it’s divided.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers have been conducting plenty of business so far in the 2022 NFL league year. Making a number a free agent signings, including both their own players and those outside the organization, the Steelers have been more active with larger contracts than they have in recent memory.

With players coming and going, the NFL salary cap is an ever-evolving number. After stabilizing their moves over the weekend, there is at least enough of a break to determine an approximate value of where the Steelers stand with the 2022 salary cap.

Even with more expenses looming when the 2022 NFL season rolls around, the Steelers still have the ability to maneuver by restructuring contracts. The most lucrative contract they can restructure and free of the most money is that of T.J. Watt, who last September signed an extension worth more than $112 million over the next four years.

The way T.J. Watt’s contract is structured, the largest salary cap hit actually occurs for the 2022 NFL season. Here is a breakdown of the Salary cap numbers for the remainder of Watt’s contract for the final four years of his current deal. These numbers come courtesy of (OTC).

Current salary cap numbers:

2022: $31,118,694
2023: $27,118,694
2024: $28,168,694
2025: $28,168,695

In seeing how the numbers play out, it almost appears as if T.J. Watt’s salary was specifically designed to give a restructure in 2022. With a drop off of $4 million to the 2023 season, the final two years on Watt’s deal come in just $1.05 million higher than 2023.

Additionally, T.J. Watt’s entire base salary for 2022 is guaranteed for this season, along with his salary for 2023 the following year. With the Steelers knowing they’re going to be paying the salary, there’s no risk in restructuring Watt for 2022.

To give a quick reminder of how restructures generally work, the players are not signing a new deal or getting paid less money, they are simply making the same amount of money but getting paid upfront in the form of a signing bonus. Instead of having a large base salary for the season, a player such as T.J. Watt would be paid just around the league minimum for his years experience, assuming the team is doing a maximum restructure, and all of his salary is converted into a new signing bonus. Being able to spread that money out over the remainder of the contract, the salary cap hit goes down for 2022 while the player gets paid the same contract but just gets most of the money upfront.

If the Steelers used T.J. Watt’s contract for a maximum restructure in 2022, they could save more than $17 million against the salary cap this season. Since every dollar will eventually come and due, The only question would be how much a 2022 restructure would affect future years. The following numbers would be Watt‘s salary cap hit if the Steelers did a maximum restructure.

Salary cap numbers with a maximum 2022 restructure:

2022: $13,894,944
2023: $32,859,944
2024: $33,909,944
2025: $33,909,945

Looking at the salary cap numbers, they don’t cause T.J. Watt’s future cap hits to skyrocket much higher than what it would have been this season. In 2023, Watt would only have his salary cap hit at $1.75 million more than what the 2022 cap hit would have been before the restructure. Additionally, the final two years are about $2.85 million more than what Watt was due to count in 2022, not a bed step for a cap that is expected to grow significantly in the coming seasons.

By keeping T.J. Watt’s salary cap numbers lower beyond 2022, it almost appears as if the Steelers had the contract set up in a way that restructure this year would not leave them into much worse of a situation than what they were willing to take on for 2022. If that’s exactly why the Steelers structured the contract this way, or whether it was a coincidence, we may never know. But it is interesting that the numbers work out this way.

So what are the Steelers waiting for? At this time, unless they have a potential deal that will need more than what they already have in cap space, it may be better to wait to restructure T.J. Watt. If the Steelers only need $10 million in cash relief, there’s no reason to do a maximum restructure and force even more money into the future. If the Steelers only restructured Watt to where they saved $10 million for 2022 rather than $17 million, his 2023 salary cap hit would actually be less than what he was scheduled to have this season. Additionally, the final two years would only be about $400k above the $31.1 million Watt currently counts towards the salary cap in 2022. For this reason, the Steelers could wait to see what they need.

Of course, the Steelers can restructure T.J. Watt at any time if they feel they would use the maximum restructure. While the Steelers know that they have this option available, there is no rush to make the move unless the time is right.