Breaking down the Steelers signing of FB Derek Watt

The Steelers locked up Derek Watt, T.J. Watt’s older brother to a new three-year pact. Amid a year with a little cap space, was it the right move?

They say two is company and threes a crowd, but in terms of Watt brothers, the Steelers seem like they’ll take as many as they can get. The Steelers made their first big move of the offseason, and to everyone’s surprise, it involved signing FB Derek Watt. The former Los Angeles Chargers FB has four years of experience in the league and is considered one of the best at the positions.

That said, with a plethora of needs and limited cap space, the Steelers spending resources on a FB seems like a questionable move. For starters, Watt signed a 3-year deal worth 9.75 million dollars with a 3.25 million dollar signing bonus. His 3.25 AAV (average annual value) places him second amongst all at the position, only behind Kyle Juszczyk and his 5.25 AAV.

While Watt is arguably the second-best FB in the league, the usage of the position is down and the fact the Steelers already had a capable option on the team in Roosevelt Nix, signing him doesn’t make sense on paper.

Looking at Nix and his best statistical year (2017) he played 16 percent of the offensive snaps and 69 percent of the special team’s snaps. During his stint in Pittsburgh, Roosevelt averaged 48 percent of the special team’s snaps in comparison to his 10.5 percent on offense. So, clearly, the FB position is one where special teams play is essential.

Watt, in comparison, has averaged around 67 percent of special teams snaps along with 13.25 percent of the offensive snaps during his four-year career. Likewise, he logged 16 tackles on special teams last year. Nix has never had more than 10.

While Nix was a valuable player on this team, Watt is clearly overall the better player. He is a participant more often on the field and more effective in those aspects. The real argument boils down to is he worth the money.

With his new contract, Watt is scheduled to count 2.083 million against the cap this year. As well, with the release of Nix, the Steelers cleared 1.01 million off the cap. If you consider the savings from Nix, then Watt’s first-year cap hit is only 1.073 million, a very reasonable deal for a starting FB. Also, if worse comes to worst and Watt flames out with the team, the Steelers can cut him next year and save just over a million in cap space next year.

With a low first-year cap hit and a contract that is easy to get out of, this deal seems easier to swallow. Considering the likely vital role Watt will play on special teams, the deal’s real value becomes apparent. Pittsburgh just watched special teams ace Tyler Matakevich sign with the Bills for 4.5 million AAV. Matakavich is a special team’s player only; Watt can and will contribute on offense.

Finally, and most importantly, Watt has shown some more tenacity as a blocker. With power backs like James Conner and Benny Snell set to start next year, having a capable lead blocker will only help to open up running lanes.

No, Watt won’t be like Dan Kreidler and play on a multitude of the offensive snaps. He will, however, be a steadier option on offense when he does see the field.

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Many will point and scoff at the Steelers opting to bring in a FB early during the offseason. Considering the flight of special teamers like Matakavich and Anthony Chickillo this offseason, bringing in a capable option is a must. As well, Watt should be a better option in the run game than Nix was. For the minimal net cap hit he is, Watt might be the most underrated signing the Steelers have this offseason.