Ron Cook: Derek Watt keeping his head down and grinding away


Derek Watt scored a touchdown in the Steelers’ most recent game, the 35-13 loss at Philadelphia on Oct. 30. That might not justify the three-year, $9.75 million contract they gave him before the 2020 season, but it was their only touchdown of the game and just their 10th offensive touchdown of this 2-6 season. The Steelers will take ’em any way they can get ’em, even if they come from a gadget pass play from the dearly departed Chase Claypool to a tumbling Watt in the end zone at Lincoln Financial Field. "Yeah, we definitely had that planned for a while," Watt said. "It got called and was executed very well." That touchdown was one of just four touches for Watt this season and eight in 37 games with the Steelers. He has had two carries for 3 yards and six catches on six targets for 22 yards and the touchdown. One more set of numbers: Watt has been on the field for 29 offensive plays this season after playing 86 last season and 52 in 12 games in 2020. He has seen 147 special teams plays this season after playing 332 last season and 213 in 2020. "Definitely try to make the most of it when I get in," Watt said of his offensive snaps. "I’m a good fullback and try to do what I can on offense when my number is called. I don’t control when I’m in or out of the game. When I’m out there, I’ve got to try to make the most of them and earn a few more that way." Watt’s usage on offense — or lack thereof — has been a significant topic with fans on talk shows and social media. It’s been a long time since the Steelers believed in using a fullback. It hasn’t happened during the Mike Tomlin era, no matter if the offensive coordinator is Matt Canada or Randy Fichtner, Todd Haley or Bruce Arians. You have to go back to the Bill Cowher days of Tim Lester or Dan Kreider driving the bus for Jerome Bettis. So a question is begged to be asked: Why did the Steelers bring in Watt and pay him such a big salary? His cap hit of $4.75 million this season is the ninth-highest on the team, per "I was brought in here as one of the best special teamers," Watt said. Watt had 16 special teams tackles with the Los Angeles Chargers in 2019, the season before the Steelers signed him. That was tied for most in the NFL. He had 14 special team tackles last season — tied for fifth in the league — and seven tackles in his 12 games in 2020. He has just two tackles in eight games this season, according to team statistics. "I was the captain last year," Watt said. "I’m always trying to contribute as best I can on special teams. That’s an updated focus on my game, but, obviously, I try to do the best I can on offense whenever I’m in there. Special teams also are very valuable. They value it here in Pittsburgh." Do they ever. Watt’s contract is the proof. "I’m not worried about what people think about how much I make," Watt said. "I didn’t control what I got. I’m here. That’s not my problem to deal with." Watt might not pay much attention to the outside "noise" — as Mike Tomlin likes to call it — but he is not oblivious to it. He made it clear he didn’t appreciate the suggestion he is with the Steelers solely because of his brother, T.J. There have been insinuations he was signed to help ensure that T.J. stay with the team rather than leave as a free agent. T.J. signed a five-year, $122.1 million contract with $80 million guaranteed before the 2021 season. No one has questioned that contract. T.J. Watt has been worth every penny. It’s almost spot-on to say the Steelers win when he’s in the lineup and lose when he’s not. He was defensive player of the year last season and nearly won the award the previous two seasons. Derek Watt said he is proud of his brother — "We have an amazing family" — but took offense to the idea his presence helped to make that contract happen. "Why would anyone say that? That’s just ridiculous," Watt said. "One, it’s insulting as hell. Two, it’s ridiculous to think that an organization like this in the National Football League would do something like that. For those people, they can think what they want. I’m assuming they’re not doing a whole lot." Watt, who turned 30 on Monday, is right about being a part of an amazing football family. Older brother J.J., 33, is a lock to make the Hall of Fame after three defensive player of the year awards and a Walter Payton Man of the Year award for his phenomenal community service. Younger brother T.J., 28, is well on his way to the Hall of Fame. "I’m not in anyone’s shadow," Derek Watt said when asked about his brothers’ amazing success. "I’m playing in the NFL my seventh year. You think I’m playing in the league for seven years because of who my brothers are? That’s insane."