PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers have made a habit of rewarding ascending linemen with big contracts. They gave former first-round picks Cam Heyward and David DeCastro new deals that combined could be worth more than $100 million.
Defensive end Stephon Tuitt appears to be next. Even if his numbers don’t reach Heyward’s $59 million over six years, Tuitt is highly valued at Steelers headquarters.
But Tuitt redirected questions about his contract to a bigger picture: His on-field goals. Tuitt said last week he’s “probably a couple of steps away from being the No. 1 defensive lineman in the league.”
“I don’t care about [the contract updates from his agent],” said Tuitt, who’s sitting out organized team activities and minicamp with a finger injury that required surgery. “What I care about is staying in shape and being the best person I can be every day and enjoying what I’m doing. … It’s just preparing and becoming that guy, the guy the Steelers need me to be and help them get to the Super Bowl.”
Tuitt strikes a confident tone, but he knows he’s close to being that guy. Early last season, Tuitt lamented missing a few near-sacks that would have sparked the defense. He hasn’t had that breakout year on paper (11½ sacks in three seasons, including four last year), but he creates steady pressure, is solid against the run and plays with the proverbial high motor that teams covet.
Late last season, Tuitt helped fill the leadership void left by Heyward, who was placed on injured reserve with a torn pectoral muscle.
Locking up Tuitt to a long-term contract is part of the Steelers’ summer plan that includes extending the contracts of running back Le’Veon Bell and left tackle Alejandro Villanueva.
Tuitt calls the Steelers’ potential investment in him “an honor,” but is preparing for anything in negotiations. He can put a swim move on those expectations by focusing on his place in history.
“I watch film. I talk to the older guys like Casey Hampton, Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel. I want to experience that feeling here,” Tuitt said. “I want to know what that’s like, and I’m glad I have one more year to try to do that with them.”
Key phrase: “One more year.”
A 2018 unrestricted free agent, Tuitt is taking his contract status literally, even if that reality is about to change.
12 June 2017 | 12:57 pm