Monday, the news became official that J.J. Watt had accepted an offer from the Arizona Cardinals for two years and $31 million with $23 million guaranteed. For the two and a half weeks he was a free agent, Watt had been linked to the Buffalo Bills, Green Bay Packers, Cleveland Browns, and a few other teams. For Watt, it is the end of an impressive era with the Houston Texas, who selected him 11th overall in the 2011 NFL Draft. The fan-favorite won the hearts of millions with his work ethic, integrity, and authenticity. Heading into his age 32 season, J.J. Watt embarks on the twilight hours of his career as he chases the ever-elusive Lombardi trophy.
What This Means For Arizona
It was widely reported upon Watt’s release that he wanted to play for a contender. Last season, the Cardinals missed the playoffs because they lost a tiebreaker to the Chicago Bears for the last spot in the NFC. During their .500 season, Arizona lost five of their eight games by just one score. Three of those five one-score losses were by three or fewer points. Essentially, the Cardinals were competitive in nearly every game they played last season. One could argue they were a few plays away from being 10-6 or 11-5 and entering the playoffs. Arizona feels that J.J. Watt can help them get over the hump in the close games.
Schematically, Watt lands in a system run by Vance Joseph, a known Wade Phillips-disciple. The Cardinals’ DC was the Texans’ DBs coach from 2011 through 2013, Watt’s first three seasons in the league. He logged 36.5 sacks in former DC Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense those years. New teammate Chandler Jones will return from injury, and opposing offenses will have to choose which player they want to double-team on a play-to-play basis. Watt was double-teamed on 30% of rushes from the edge last year.
While Watt’s signing will probably ixnay a Haason Reddick extension, if Arizona can somehow manipulate the salary cap to keep Reddick then their pass rush could be the league’s best next season. Keep in mind the versatile Isaiah Simmons boasts pass rush prowess as well.
Arizona will want to draft a defensive tackle in the second or third round to ensure the aging Corey Peters. Regardless, this defense should be much improved from its 2020 version. Kliff Kingsbury’s Kyler Murray-led offense will continue to score points. Your author feels that Arizona should now be viewed as a contender to make the Super Bowl.
What This Means For Houston
Sparing the time for optimistic, fluffy analysis, Houston can be labeled what it is: an ugly and complicated rebuild. Without wasting too much time or effort, the Texans’ situation with disgruntled franchise QB Deshaun Watson is a mess. It looks now as though he is prepared to hold out if the Texans do not trade him. If Houston doesn’t make a deal before or during the NFL Draft in April, they will undoubtedly get swindled. Keep in mind, Houston is already missing their 2021 first and second-round draft picks. This franchise already has the feel of a “talent desert.”
Aside from a few solid DBs, a young group with promise on the offensive line, and the value they can return from trading Deshaun Watson, the Texans appear void of talent with no new improvements on the horizon. Head coach David Culley is tasked with navigating the league’s most difficult circumstances, as your author alluded to before. Houston needs to trade Watson for multiple first-round picks while they still can. They need to at least give themselves a fair opportunity to rebuild.
J.J. Watt Fantasy Outlook
J.J. Watt is heading to the desert in Arizona because the Cardinals know he’s a better option than extending Haason Reddick. An oft-overlooked asset of Watt’s influence is his ability to defend the run. Arizona made the move to improve on their bottom-ten ranked rush defense from 2020.
A clip from “TJ Watt vs JJ Watt – The PHENOM or The LEGEND? 🔥”
Breakdown of @jjwatt OBLITERATING the double team on the Colts “Duo” run 😳😳
— Alex Rollins (@AlexRollinsNFL) June 29, 2020
While he is certainly not the player he once was before devastating injuries, Watt, himself, will benefit from having a bonafide top-tier pass-rusher across from him in Chandler Jones (19 sacks in 2019). Conversely, Reddick will find it difficult to replicate his 2020 production outside of Arizona.
Watt has the opportunity to reach double-digit sacks again in 2021. The presence of Jones will ensure that he sees one-on-one opportunities from time to time.
99th sack for #99 JJ Watt pic.twitter.com/F3BPdPZerD
— MUHzzilli (@MUHzzilli) October 18, 2020
An IDP owner in need of a defensive end should not hesitate to dangle a 2021 third-round pick to see if they can land Watt at low cost. Expect Watt’s tackle numbers to see a minor bump from what he logged last season. He looks to be a DE2 heading into 2021.
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