Here’s the reality
By Joe Smeltzer
Knock it off.
Cut it out.
It’s not going to happen, and the reasons couldn’t be more obvious if they were written on baseball, Aroldis Chapman threw it 100 MPH and hit you in the face with it.
JJ Watt isn’t going to be a Pittsburgh Steeler. That statement should be as obvious as “Joe Smeltzer isn’t going to spend his 23rd birthday with a supermodel.”
But far too many people— and one person is too many— don’t see why the dream of all three Watt brothers playing together is just that. A dream.
Pittsburgh does this all the time. When an NFL player becomes a free agent, or is still under contract but disgruntled, he automatically has to be a target for the Steelers (“This guy would look great in Black and Gold!)”
These cravings are usually for quarterbacks, mostly of modest NFL accomplishment. It’s usually a Jameis Winston or Sam Darnold-type, with a star sometimes thrown in the mix such as Deshaun Watson.
If it isn’t a quarterback, it’s probably a defensive player. Remember Patrick Peterson at the trade deadline a few years back?
Now, one of the greatest defenders of all time is on the market. The “get this guy in Black and Gold” mafia is in Valhalla, and will be until JJ Watt signs elsewhere.
If anybody who is physically in Pittsburgh, but mentally and emotionally in Candyland is reading, I know what you’ll say, and I’m going to rip it to shreds.
The dream: “JJ has two brothers that play for the Steelers! Oh, how special it’d be for the family!”
The reality: JJ has been playing in the NFL without any siblings as teammates for 11 years, and didn’t play with either TJ or Derek at Wisconsin or in high school. I think he’d live.
Whether the deluded would admit it or not, the Watt family connection is the only reason they believe this particular fantasy has any legs. But they’ll give other reasons, and I’ll make fun of them.
The dream: “The Steelers have salary cap problems, but they can find a way to pay JJ Watt if they try really, really hard!”
The reality: Do you want to call Omar Khan, Pittsburgh’s salary cap czar, and tell him how to swing that?
Even with Marukice Pouncey’s retirement, the Steelers are still more than $30 million above the threshold according to overthecap.com. JJ Watt won’t be cheap.
The dream: “Bu… bu… TJ and Derek play for the Steelers, so JJ would take less money to join them! He’d take the league minimum! He might even play for free!”
The reality: I think JJ would rather have a Super Bowl ring, which he’d have a better chance of getting if he went elsewhere, maybe to his hometown Packers.
And the most humorous dream vs. reality case is…
The dream: “If the Steelers sign JJ Watt, Ben will get 10 years younger! The Steelers running game wouldn’t stink! Whomever replaces Pouncey at center will become the 2020s version of Mike Webster! The tackles will learn how to block, the middle linebackers will learn how to cover, and the corners will become young and swift! Terrell Edmunds will learn how to make an open field tackle! The snozzberries will taste like snozzberries!”
The reality: Nobody is actually saying this, of course. But they might well be if they’re trying to argue that signing JJ Watt would make the Steelers Super Bowl contenders.
Even when at his peak, Watt never got to an AFC Championship game, much less a Super Bowl. No fault of his own. The Houston Texans of the 2010s just weren’t good enough.
Neither are the Pittsburgh Steelers of the early 2020s. And guess what? Watt ain’t what he used to be either.
He’s still a quality talent, to be sure. But the facts are that he’s 31 going on 32. He hasn’t been an All-Pro in two years. His last defensive player of the year honor was in 2015. No. 99 is still good, but he’s a player that can help a team win a Super Bowl only if it’s on the cusp. The Steelers, rather, are on the precipice.
Even if Pittsburgh somehow found a way to sign JJ Watt, how much would it help? If Watt comes into the Steelers’ defensive line— arguably the team’s most stable area— it’d be at the expense of Cam Heyward or Stephen Tuitt. Do you want to lose either of those guys? In Laymen’s terms, JJ Watt would take the Steelers from an aging team that’d be lucky to make the playoffs, to an old team that’d be fortunate to qualify for the postseason.
But keep dreaming, yinzers. Keep thinking the Steelers have money to blow. Keep hoping JJ Watt would rather relive days in Pewaukee autumns than win a Super Bowl. Eventually, you’ll awake.