Was Steelers signing of Derek Watt an insurance policy for brother T.J.?

Derek Watt #34 of the Los Angeles Chargers and T.J. Watt #90 of the Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by Katharine Lotze/Getty Images)
Derek Watt #34 of the Los Angeles Chargers and T.J. Watt #90 of the Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by Katharine Lotze/Getty Images) /

The Steelers recently made Derek Watt the highest-paid fullback in the NFL. Here’s why his value may stretch beyond offense and special teams.

In a somewhat surprising move, the Steelers used much of the little cap space they have in 2020 to sign a fullback. Derek Watt spent his first four seasons in the NFL as a member of the chargers. During that time, he started just 13 of 64 games.

Watt – the middle brother of three – has clearly had his NFL reputation overshadowed by both his older and younger brother. J.J. Watt is a former Defensive Player of the Year one of the most dominant defensive players, in general, the league has ever seen. T.J. Watt doesn’t have the same type of reputation, but he is well on his way to becoming one of the best defensive players in the league and was a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year in 2019.

Lost in the shuffle (and in a dying fullback position) is Derek. Though he’s never played more than 15 percent of offensive snaps in a season, Derek excels as a special teams player. He played 326 special teams snaps in 2019 (78 percent) and has managed 1,170 snaps in his first four seasons.

Essentially, Watt was brought in to take on the role of former fullback Roosevelt Nix and special teams stud, Tyler Matakevich. But is there another reason why the Steelers elected to bring in Derek?

Considering his age and value of the position, T.J. Watt is perhaps the most valuable chess piece on the Steelers. Watt is entering his fourth season with the team, and a new contract should be just around the corner – one that should certainly make him among the highest-paid edge defenders in the NFL.

With his big brother already on board for the next three reasons, perhaps signing Derek was more than just a means of bringing in a fullback and a solid special teamer. Perhaps his signing was an insurance policy to keep T.J. around for the long haul.

The Steelers rarely let players walk that they have interest in signing, and Watt certainly falls in that category. But with Pittsburgh handing out a favorable deal that made Derek the highest-paid fullback in the league, maybe T.J. would take a bit of a Pittsburgh discount.

It’s also interesting to consider the fact that Nix had signed a four-year extension in 2018 and was under contract until the 2022 offseason with a very favorable cap number. While injuries in 2019 could have played a factor, Nix played in 32 straight games before that point and was a solid special teams player in his own right.

Again, this is no more than a conspiracy theory at this point, and we could never tell the exact motive unless we were inside the heads of Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin in these decisions.

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Derek Watt is a good enough football player to fill the shoes of Nix on offense and Matakevich on special teams. But maybe there was another reason why the Steelers thought it would be wise to bring him in.