Former Wisconsin Badgers defensive end J.J. Watt is going to be a free agent for the first time in his NFL career. After ten years with the Houston Texans, during which time he earned five first-team All-Pro honors and three Defensive Player of the Year awards, the Texans are planning to release him before the final year of his contract.
Seconds after the news broke on Twitter, Watt tweeted out the video below explaining that he requested that the team release him while thanking the city of Houston and its fans for their support over his career:
Houston, I wanted you to hear this directly from me... pic.twitter.com/YqT3P6Lb6l— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) February 12, 2021
Watt was set to be due a $17.5 million base salary in 2021, and this move makes financial sense for the Texans, who were projected to be about $13 million over the reduced salary cap. Although he has battled injuries for much of the past five seasons, Watt did play in every game of the 2020 season, though he recorded just five sacks — a career low for a full season. He did post his second career interception, returning it for a 19-yard touchdown, and forced a pair of fumbles.
Though not the dominating pass-rusher he once was — he averaged over 17 sacks per year from 2012 to 2015 — a 32-year-old Watt should still be able to provide a significant interior pass-rush. The Packers could use a player like Watt at the 5-technique defensive end position, particularly if they move on from Dean Lowry and plan to line up in their base 3-4 more often under Joe Barry than they did with Mike Pettine calling the shots on defense. If Watt were to return home to Wisconsin to play for the Packers, he also might benefit from more single-blocks than he saw in Houston over the past few years, with offenses keying on Kenny Clark or Za’Darius Smith instead.
Of course, for the Packers to add any veteran free agents, they will need to get creative with their current salary cap situation. The team is projected to be about $28 million over the cap based on existing contracts alone, so cuts are almost certainly coming. But it will be interesting to see if the temptation to play for the team he grew up loving as a child and compete for a Super Bowl ring is enough to get him to take a significant pay decrease. After all, money is not an issue for Watt, as he has earned just over $100 million in his NFL career.
Let Watt Watch 2021 begin.