When the Steelers started diving into the free-agent market earlier this month, Derek Watt’s agents didn’t want to get his hopes up. If anything, they tried to shrug off the possibility of a Watt reunion in Pittsburgh, deliberately sandbagging the likelihood that a dream scenario might come together for a family from Southeastern Wisconsin.
“They were kind of downplaying it,” Watt recalled.
So, when the Steelers agreed to sign their new fullback last Tuesday, the middle Watt brother, the one who doesn’t go by his initials, was thrown for a bit of a loop. It might be tough to fool his famous All-Pro pass-rushing brothers on the field, but the one who plays on the other side of the ball got duped by a misdirection, a play fake in good faith.
“Hey buddy,” his agents would tell him later, “all along, they were one of the teams that really wanted you bad.”
Watt will gladly take the surprise. Wednesday, he officially signed his two-year contract that unites him with the Steelers and reunites him with his younger brother, two-team Pro Bowl outside linebacker T.J. Watt.
While Watt intends on bringing versatility as both a blocker and special teams player to his new team, the first thing he might cause in the locker room is confusion. He sounds almost exactly like one of his teammates, the same Midwestern accent and inflection but maybe just an octave different than the baby of the family.
He’s already equipped with all the necessary buzz words, too, tossing out a “hard-working,” “blue-collar,” “tough-nosed” and “Steeler Nation” like a grizzled veteran of Western Pennsylvania.
“Playing against the Steelers, I’ve gotten that opportunity to see up-close and personal how the fans were,” Derek Watt said on a conference call Thursday afternoon. “Now they’ll be cheering for me and not against me, which is very nice because they are very loud when they’re on your side.”
The newest Watt in town isn’t here just yet. He’s still in Wisconsin working out with J.J. and T.J. every day, as they do each offseason. Derek Watt — who spent his first four seasons with the Chargers — is a bit more familiar with the Steelers than he would be most other teams, and is surely more knowledgeable than many other free agents who sign here, but he doesn’t have too much of a history with the organization.
Admittedly, when he’d watch the Steelers before, he’d just be glued to T.J. every play. Coming out of Wisconsin, where he played for three years with T.J., the only NFL teams he visited before the 2016 draft were Houston — J.J.’s franchise — and the Chargers, who’d select him in the sixth round. When the Chargers faced the Steelers the past two years, first at Heinz Field and then at a home stadium that bore an uncanny resemblance to it, Derek got a chance to meet with coach Mike Tomlin pregame.
But their chats were solely about how T.J. was making a name for himself in the NFL, lest you think they were laying the foundation for a future acquisition or discussing how Derek would be used in black and gold.
“I’m not entirely sure what the outlook or the game plan looks like,” he said. “When I talked to coach Tomlin, he said we’ll get into that later, and they’ll lay out the plan they have for me.”
That plan undoubtedly will include special teams work, but Watt also had been an occasional contributor on offense for his previous squad. He has played between 12-15% of the offensive snaps all four seasons of his career, and has never missed a game. For comparison’s sake, the man he’ll replace in Pittsburgh, Roosevelt Nix, played 16% of the snaps three years ago but that career high was sandwiched around a 9% share in 2016 and 10% in 2018, his last healthy season.
There will be ample time to discern Derek Watt’s on-field role with the Steelers. Until then, he and his brothers will keep pushing each other off the field, same way they’ve done all their lives. Just don’t expect Derek and T.J. to take their brotherly relationship to the extreme once they’re together again in a professional capacity.
Derek’s wife, Gabriella, and their 13-month-old son, Logan, will be coming with him, so while they might try to find a home close to Uncle T.J., the chances of bunk beds and all-nighters are out the window. Between playing together in high school and college, not to mention growing up in the same house, the brothers don’t need to “be around each other every single day nonstop.”
“I know he doesn’t want that,” Derek said, “and I know my wife doesn’t want that.”
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