That is the substance of one report discussing the status of J.J. Watt’s foray into free agency this month after receiving his release from the Houston Texans. John Clayton, formerly of ESPN, is reporting that the Packers are one of three or four teams still in the running to sign Watt, the former Wisconsin Badgers star.
According to Clayton via Andrew Fillipponi, the Steelers — who currently employ the other two Watt brothers, Derek and T.J. — have dropped out of the running. Pittsburgh is apparently focusing its attention on finding a way to restructure quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s contract instead, as Big Ben appears intent on playing in 2021 and doing so with the team that drafted him back in 2004. Pittsburgh is already dealing with major salary cap stress — they are almost $20 million over a projected $180 million cap compared to the Packers sitting about $12 million over — so those factors all likely combined to knock them out of the race.
The Packers instead are in a group that includes the Buffalo Bills, Tennessee Titans, and perhaps the Las Vegas Raiders as the likeliest suitors for Watt. The Raiders, whom Clayton referred to as a “dark horse,” are a bit worse off against the cap than the Packers are at present, while the Titans and Bills both sit almost right on their cap values for now. As such, if any of those four teams signs Watt before March 17th, they would need to free up cap money before the new league year starts at 4:00 PM Eastern on that date.
UPDATE: Clayton clarified his report after this post was first published to note that the teams listed were the leaders, but that Watt has not explicitly trimmed down his list to finalists.
Still, Watt’s search for a new team does not look like it will wrap up in the immediate future. ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reports that “nothing is imminent” regarding a potential signing, and that there are “plenty” of teams involved in discussions with Watt and, presumably, his agent.
For the Packers, cuts of Preston Smith and Dean Lowry still make the most sense, while contract extensions or restructures for Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams, and Za’Darius Smith could be in the cards as well. Packers fans can keep dreaming of Watt coming to Green Bay for a little longer, however, and can rest assured that their team is still very much involved.