Steelers' Updated Salary Cap Amid J.J. Watt Buzz After Maurkice Pouncey Retires

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistFebruary 12, 2021

Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt leaves the field after a losing an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020, in Houston. The Bengals won 37-31. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

Following Friday's announcement from J.J. Watt that he and the Houston Texans have agreed to part ways, speculation about the five-time Pro Bowler's home for 2021 immediately began. 

The Pittsburgh Steelers are the most-buzzed about team since they already have his brothers T.J. and Derek Watt on the roster. 

The Steelers did pick up some additional cap space on Friday when Maurkice Pouncey announced he was retiring from the NFL after 10 seasons. Per ESPN's Brooke Pryor, Pouncey's retirement will save the Steelers $8 million against the 2021 cap. 

Pittsburgh's front office will have to make additional moves to have financial flexibility. Spotrac estimates the team is $18.8 million over the cap even when factoring in Pouncey's retirement. 

One way that the Steelers seem likely to open up more money is with Ben Roethlisberger's contract. His current deal comes with a $41.25 million cap hit. 

Steelers president Art Rooney II told reporters in January that he wants Roethlisberger back, but it would have to be at a lower cap figure. 

Roethlisberger told Ed Bouchette of The Athletic that he doesn't "care bout my pay at all this year" and is willing to restructure his deal. 

T.J. Watt is under contract for one more season and figures to get a massive payday whenever he signs an extension. The 26-year-old led the NFL with 23 tackles for loss and 15 sacks in 2020. He has racked up 49.5 sacks in 62 career games. 

Mark Kaboly of The Athletic speculated that T.J.'s potential extension could be in line with the deals signed by Joey Bosa of the Los Angeles Chargers (five years, $127 million) and Myles Garrett of the Cleveland Browns (five years, $125 million) last offseason.

Bud Dupree, Avery Williamson, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Alejandro Villanueva are among Pittsburgh's key free agents this offseason. Dupree, who played last season, was having a terrific 2020 with eight sacks through 11 games before he suffered a torn ACL in Week 12 against the Baltimore Ravens. 

There has been no indication at this point that the Steelers are going to pursue J.J. Watt, but the family ties he has with the organization would make them a logical fit. 

But there figures to be plenty of competition for the three-time Defensive Player of the Year's services. He was healthy last season, starting all 16 games for just the second time since 2016. 

Watt only had five sacks in 2020, but he ranked eighth among all defensive ends and outside linebackers in ESPN's pass-rush win rate metric that measures if a defender can beat their blocker within 2.5 seconds.