PITTSBURGH — Standing in the doorway of the media room at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin grinned and nodded as linebacker Alex Highsmith detailed his journey to the four-year, $68 million extension he signed a week ago.
Now one of the top-10 highest paid edge rushers, Highsmith is the latest example of the long-standing Steelers’ draft-and-develop method. He embodies the blue-collar attitude of Tomlin and the organization.
“The walk-on mentality is something that’s going to stick with me forever,” Highsmith said Monday. “Just being back in college and getting there in 2015 with no offers, zero stars, and not even going to camp my freshman year … I just wanted to outwork everybody and be the best that I could. I still carry that mindset with me today, because I know there’s always people that are going to work to be better than you.”
Selected in the third round of the 2020 draft, Highsmith had a breakout season in 2022 with 14.5 sacks — almost double his first two seasons combined — and proved to be a complementary piece to 2021 Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt.
“He’s an elite Robin,” Tomlin said during mandatory minicamp. “You know, as we say, we like to challenge him in that way. He’s growing. He’s making a name for himself in this thing. He seeks perfection. His maturation has been one that we anticipate and expect to be quite honest with you. We put quality people in this program,and they work within, and they just simply get better, and their tape does as well and he’s an example of that.”
In signing Highsmith, the Steelers continue to invest premium dollars in their defense, bucking a league-wide trend of spending big money on offensive weapons. Division-mates Baltimore,
Cleveland and Cincinnati all rank in the top-10 in offensive spending with at least $121 million allocated to that side of the ball, while the Steelers are 21st with $105 million going to the offense, per Over the Cap.
After leading the league in defensive spending with a payroll of $109.9…