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Steelers LB T.J. Watt on football future, possible retirement timeline: 'I won't know until that moment comes'

With milestones often come introspection, and for Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt, his upcoming 30th birthday, which will pass during the 2024 season, is one such occasion for reflection on his football career to this point.

Watt has put together arguably a Hall of Fame caliber career since entering the league in 2017, but his team has not reached a similar level of success in the playoffs. That specific grievance is his priority heading into his eighth NFL season.

"For me, it is all about no playoff wins," Watt said recently, via The Athletic. "I am trying to do anything I can do. We have so much turnover year to year and so many new guys that it is trying to learn as much as possible coming from guys from other organizations that have done it and won championships since being in the league.

"I am going to do whatever is possible to win. It is about not taking any day for granted, and when it comes down to executing and working, putting everything aside and getting it done."

The Steelers organization has its fair share of playoff success in its history, including three Super Bowl appearances (two wins) in the last 20 years. But Pittsburgh's last playoff win came in the 2016 season, just before Watt was drafted. While the Steelers have maintained a level of success since then, continuing head coach Mike Tomlin's streak of 17 consecutive seasons without a losing record, the team has an 0-4 record in postseason appearances since Watt entered the league.

In the Steelers' most recent campaign, Watt had a league-leading 19 sacks in the regular season, but suffered a sprained MCL in Week 18 that left him inactive for the Wild Card Round. With him on the sideline, Pittsburgh fell to the Buffalo Bills, 31-17.

While the team's postseason struggles are not solely on the shoulders of Watt, it's team success that he craves, and that remains his priority heading into this fall.

But as he works toward this ultimate goal of finally seeing postseason wins, Watt also has been considering his own individual football future, and what the next few years could look like in the context of entering his 30s and possible talk of retirement on the horizon.

Watt is under contract in Pittsburgh through the 2025 season, and would be eligible for an extension at the end of this upcoming season. An injury-plagued 2022 might have temporarily caused concern over whether Watt could sustain his elite play for several more years, but his resurgent 2023, when he finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting, silenced that line of questioning.

With no sign of slowing down in production, Watt could be able to continue playing NFL football at a high level as long as he wants to, even if he's not exactly sure when that time might come.

"I don't know if I want to play forever, but who knows? It is too hard to say," Watt said. "J.J. always said he didn't want to play super long, then things happened and he ended up playing longer. I won't know until that moment comes. I feel great right now, so I am kind of just living in the moment."

His brother, J.J. Watt, retired at the age of 33 after the 2022 season, having accumulated 114.5 sacks in a dozen seasons.

Whether T.J. Watt eclipses that age, or those numbers -- he has 96.5 sacks right now -- remains to be seen. But with the knowledge that extended careers are not guaranteed, he wants to make the most of the snaps he's got left -- however many there are -- by winning with his team when it matters.

"I don't have forever to play," Watt said. "I have always approached the game as right now, and I have never taken it for granted, and that hasn't changed at all."

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