After meeting with the McNair family, J.J. Watt is being released by the Houston Texans. He leaves the franchise as a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, a Hall of Famer if he retired tomorrow, and likely the greatest player in team history. At 31, he should still have some good football to give, and will certainly draw plenty of attention in free agency.
Watt was pretty productive in 2020, despite having very little help on a depleted Texans defense. He finished with 52 tackles, 14 TFLs, five sacks, a pick six. Most importantly, he played all 16 games, something he’s done just twice since the 2015 season.
The list of teams that couldn’t use a J.J. Watt on their defensive line is very short. With over $100 million in career earnings over his 10 years with the Texans, it makes sense that he’ll be looking to win a title with his next stop.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, which already have two Watt brothers on the roster, and the Green Bay Packers, Watt’s home state team, have been the most frequently cited destinations for the former Texans star. They’re both solid options, but there are definitely other major options that could also appeal to him. Here are our five favorites to land him.
T.J. Watt is coming off of his own incredible season, leading the league with 15 sacks, 23 TFLs, and 41 quarterback hits, a year for which J.J. Watt was convinced he’d win Defensive Player of the Year. He lost out to Aaron Donald, but has clearly broken out as one of the NFL’s best pass rushers. Their other brother Derek Watt is a fullback for the team.
The Steelers could also lose Bud Dupree, who played the 2020 season on the franchise tag, and suffered a torn ACL late in the year. If he signs elsewhere, or misses a chunk of the season while he recovers, the Steelers could certainly use some help in the pass rush department. The Watt brothers seem extremely close, so the draw for J.J. has to be significant here.
Green Bay Packers:
As a Wisconsin native, J.J. Watt grew up a big-time Green Bay Packers fan. After a brief stint at Central Michigan, where he played tight end, he transferred as a walk-on to Wisconsin, moved to defensive end, and the rest is history.
While there aren’t always a ton of options, Packer fans love when the team signs former Badgers. There’s no better one available than Watt, who is a hometown hero on top of it. Even if he isn’t the same game breaking player that he was in Houston, and the Packers are never hurting for fans in the stands, he’d help boost fan interest even more. Green Bay can also use plenty of help on defense, as it prepares to take another swing at a Super Bowl with Aaron Rodgers, after back-to-back NFC Championship Game appearances.
Watt would really have to want to be a Packer though. The team doesn’t have a ton of room to navigate under the salary cap.
“Hey J.J., we’re a little cap-strapped, but does wearing the green and gold and chasing a Super Bowl with Aaron Rodgers sound appealing for one year and a peasant salary?”
— Zach Kruse (@zachkruse2) February 12, 2021
Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
If J.J. Watt really wants to ring-chase, well, we know one team capable of winning those rings.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are expected to be a factor again next year, though they do have some business to take care of this offseason. Shaquil Barrett, Ndamukong Suh, and Rakeem Nunez-Roches are all potential losses this offseason. Watt’s versatility would certainly help them fill a hole if one pops up.
Flexibility is a question for Tampa, like it is for Green Bay, though. With numerous other important players set to hit free agency, including Lavonte David, Leonard Fournette, Chris Godwin, and Rob Gronkowski, adding Watt may be tough. It all depends on what the moving pieces look like.
Jerry Jones likely doesn’t consider the Houston Texans, one of the NFL’s younger franchises, as a major rival, especially with how much turmoil Houston finds itself in at the moment. Still, the chance to add one of the most popular athletes in the state, to a Dallas Cowboys defense that badly needs help, has to intrigue him.
The team has already hired Dan Quinn, the engineer of some of the great Seattle Seahawks defenses, to revamp that side of the ball. That could certainly intrigue Watt, as could staying in Texas, where he has done so much impressive work in local communities.
The Cowboys need to figure out the Dak Prescott situation before anything else, but Watt should at least be on the radar here.
Miami’s defense is already one of the best in the NFL, without a substantial pass rush presence on the defensive line. Emmanuel Ogbah was extremely productive, with a team-high nine sacks. The next four players on the list were all linebackers. Brian Flores is great at dialing up blitzes, but adding a player like J.J. Watt opposite Ogbah would really drive down the necessity there. We saw how dangerous the Buccaneers were when they didn’t have to blitz Patrick Mahomes in the Super Bowl.
The Miami Dolphins are looking to enter their championship window, they have more financial flexibility than the rest of this list, and they have a really strong, coherent team structure and chemistry, basically the opposite of what Watt escaped with the Texans. They may not be as close to a Super Bowl as some of the other teams on this list, but if he wants to help get in on a team just about ready to take off, this may be his best option.