Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said Wednesday he took less money in his reworked one-year, $14 million contract to give the front office financial flexibility to re-sign players like outside linebacker T.J. Watt.
"T.J. Watt should get whatever the heck he wants," Roethlisberger told reporters. "He's one of the best players in the NFL, not just defensively."
Watt's status for Sunday's Week 1 game against the Buffalo Bills remains uncertain as he seeks a new long-term deal. He was limited to individual drills throughout training camp.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday he was "optimistic" the sides could come to terms on an extension, but regardless of that situation, he hoped Watt would return to a full team practice Wednesday.
"That aside, I'm expecting him to work tomorrow. I'm proceeding with the assumption that he's going to work tomorrow," Tomlin said. "That's the approach I'm taking. He's missed some time due to obvious reasons, but like I've also mentioned, over the course of this team development process, I focus very little on those that aren't working, for whatever reason that they're not working."
Watt is scheduled to enter the final season of his rookie contract, which includes $10.1 million base salary for 2021.
The 26-year-old Wisconsin native has been one of the NFL's best edge-rushers since the Steelers selected him in the first round of the 2017 draft. He's recorded 49.5 sacks through 62 career games, including a league-leading 15 last season.
"I love Pittsburgh,'' Watt told reporters in July. "I would love to be here. All those decisions aren't mine to be made. I am just here right now and doing my best each and every day.''
He's otherwise remain tight-lipped about the contract talks and his potential availability for the 2021 season if no deal is reached.
Watt has earned the right to get paid among the league's top outside linebackers. The current benchmark for an elite edge is the Chicago Bears' Khalil Mack, who signed a six-year, $141 million contract with $90 million guaranteed in 2018.
That and the fact the Steelers wouldn't be able to replace the production the three-time Pro Bowler and two-time First Team All-Pro selection typically provides should lead the Steelers to finalize an extension sometime before kickoff against the Bills on Sunday.
If Watt is sidelined for the opener, Melvin Ingram III figures to enter the starting lineup at outside linebacker opposite Alex Highsmith.