PITTSBURGH -- "It just feels so good to smile right now," Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt said as he opened his contract extension press conference.
The feeling was understood. Watt is a day out of signing a four-year, $112 million contract that made him the highest-paid defender in the NFL. But now, his attention is back to football.
"It's my mission to everyone in this room and prove them right that they made the right decision," Watt said in his press conference Friday. "That hunger has not gone away, it's gotten stronger. I'm so happy to be here in the city of Pittsburgh for many, many more years to come. And a Super Bowl is definitely a true possibility, and I believe that in my heart of hearts. I'm going to do absolutely everything I can to make that happen."
Watt's message was sent to many inside and outside the organization. To his teammates, he's thankful for the patience.
"I know it's been tough to watch me on the sidelines and they could've given me so much grief for not practicing and handling this situation as I did," Watt said. "No one gave me a hard time. I really, truly, from the bottom of my heart, appreciate those guys."
Players like Cam Heyward and Ben Roethlisberger openly advocated for Watt to receive a new contract. Those efforts were public, and Watt saw them.
"When you go through something like this and you're trying to stand up for what you believe in and have to go through it by yourself, having reassurance from the people that you care about their opinion the most means a lot," Watt said. "There were definitely moments through this whole process when you do feel like you're by yourself and that's why it's so important that those guys said those nice things."
To the organization and those who put $112 million worth of trust in a 26-year-old, this is everything he could've asked for.
"This is a dream to play for an organization like this," Watt said. "It's everything from on the field to off the field. On the field, it's a 3-4 defense. I'm an outside linebacker. That's a player's dream.
"To play for Blitzburgh. To play for the fans. To play for this city is also a dream. To play for the Rooney family is also a dream. It's incredible and I get chills talking about, being a part of an organization that has such rich tradition. It's not some billionaire that came in and bought a team and started it because he had this money. It's a team built off tradition and it goes so much deeper than just football and that's why I'm so grateful to be a part of it."
To those who believe this new contract will add pressure to his on-field play, he's ready for it.
"I've been dealing with pressure my whole life," Watt said. "Everybody always asks me what it's like to be the younger brother of X,Y,Z; you know the answers. I'm built for this, and I truly believe that nothing monetary will change me as a person. The work that I've put in will not change, it'll only grow. It's my job to prove to all these people who have put this amount of money on me and stood on the table for me to say that they want me here, is to prove them right. I know I can do it. I know exactly what it takes. I've been doing it my whole life."
And to the fans, Watt's message is simple.
"Let's go win a Super Bowl," he said. "I appreciate everyone's support through the whole thing, but now it's time to get down to work again and start winning football games."
The Steelers have all but four starters returning to the defense. This isn't a hopeful team living on a dream, according to Watt. This year, it's different.
"We're not so young anymore on defense, and it's a real possibility," Watt explained. "It's not just something we're putting on the wall and slapping as we walk by just because we have to. We truly believe this is a special team."
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