USA Today

Two years after making T.J. Watt the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history, the Steelers have rewarded Watt's fellow pass rusher with a lucrative deal of his own, signing Alex Highsmith to a four-year, $68 million extension on Wednesday, per CBS Sports Senior NFL Insider Jonathan Jones.

The deal makes Highsmith one of the NFL's top 10 edge rushers in terms of average annual value ($17M), ahead of veterans like Emmanuel Ogbah ($16.35M), Haason Reddick ($15M) and Trey Hendrickson ($15M). More than $27.7M, or roughly 40% of the new deal, is already guaranteed, per Jones.

Highsmith, who turns 26 in August, is coming off a breakout season alongside and in place of Watt, who missed seven games due to injury. Originally a third-round pick out of Charlotte in 2020, he had a career-high 14.5 sacks and 20 quarterback hits in 2022 to help the Steelers maintain a top-10 scoring defense. The year prior, Highsmith was also busy as a full-timer, logging six sacks to go with 15 QB hits and 15 tackles for loss.

By extending Highsmith at such a rate, the Steelers become the third NFL team to deploy two different pass rushers with top-10 annual earnings at their position. Paying a combined $45M per year for Watt and Highsmith, they're joined by the Chargers (Joey Bosa, Khalil Mack) and Raiders (Maxx Crosby, Chandler Jones) as teams committing at least $17M per year to multiple edge starters.

Highsmith had been anticipating a new deal with Pittsburgh, telling reporters this spring he was confident the two sides would reach an extension ahead of the 2023 campaign.