T.J. Watt is to the Steelers today as Mean Joe was in the 1970s

Pittsburgh Steelers, T.J. Watt (Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)
Pittsburgh Steelers, T.J. Watt (Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports) /

Earlier this week, the Steelers made T.J. Watt the highest-paid edge rusher in the NFL, surpassing both Joey Bosa and Myles Garrett.

The agreement between the Steelers and T.J. Watt is unprecedented in that Pittsburgh bent their policy on guaranteed money when offering a contract.  Normally they only guaranteed the first year of a contract. Not this time.  Watt will make $112 million $28 million a season with $80 million guaranteed

They could have offered something similar to Le’veon Bell, yet they chose not to, and he sat out of football for the better part of a year. Not that Pittsburgh couldn’t have made use of his services.  He was obviously at that point one of the top five running backs in the NFL. So why is T.J.’s situation different? In T.J.’s situation, Pittsburgh worked out a deal in part of what he meant to their club. Bell was expendable, T.J. was not.

In 1969 Chuck Noll drafted an unheard-of college player from North Texas. It didn’t take long for him to make an impact. People just called him Mean Joe after that. Joe Greene was not just a great player; he was the first player people thought of when they heard the Steelers mentioned. Considering the Steelers had many great players.

T.J. Watt’s impact on the Steelers is very similar to Mean Joe back in the 70s

As a result, he is only the second Steelers player in team history to have his jersey retired.   The only difference between T.J. Watt and Joe green is that Joe, despite his talent, lacked the ability to leverage the Steelers for the kind of money T.J. did due to the fact-free agency did not work like it does today. However, had he left the Steelers at any point, they still may have been a great team but not the same team.

Decades later, the Steelers drafted T.J. Watt, and there is a case that one could make the T.J. is to the Steelers in the 2020s as Mean Joe was to the Steelers in the 1970s. Again the Steelers have many great players Ben Roethlisberger, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Cam Heyward, Devin Bush, and the young rookie Najee Harris.

However, T.J. is the player most think of when someone mentions the club. Why? T.J. is that great. Perhaps as significant as Mean Joe. If they lost T.J. Watt, their defense would lose a lot. Plus, hamper any chance they have of competing for another title.

At one point, Big Ben was that player now with the bulk of his career in the rearview mirror; his career is winding down. At one point, he may have been irreplaceable say between 2004-2015. Even he came out and urged Pittsburgh needed to sign Watt. Now the middle Watt brother has assumed that role.  As a result, the Rooney’s recognized that fact and decided it was for the betterment of their club to bend their own rules to sign Watt, then to let him go.

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Now T.J. will be around for a bit longer.  What happens when his new contract expires is only speculation at this point. Does he move on or retire as a member of the Steelers. Only time will tell, however, if he chooses to end his career in Pittsburgh, aside from his assured induction into the Hall, he could become the 3rd Steelers player to have his jersey retired.