At the closing of the Texans 2020 season, we saw J.J. Watt and Deshaun Watson walking off the field together to the tune of, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry we wasted one of your years.” I was shocked when I learned that this was Watt saying this to Watson.
"I'm sorry, we wasted one of your years."
Watt to Watson after a tough season. pic.twitter.com/mcTVK3ZeJG
— NFL Films (@NFLFilms) January 5, 2021
HOUSTON WE HAVE A PROBLEM
Houston is experiencing one of the most turbulent years in sports history. No other time can I remember a city losing four superstars in a matter of just three months. In December, former MVP Russell Westbrook was jettisoned to Washington. Just a month later, Houston lost another former MVP in James Harden to Brooklyn. Yesterday, Houston “mutually agreed” to part with the face of their football franchise J.J. Watt. Lurking around the corner for Houston is a parting with star quarterback Deshaun Watson.
Everyone knows that “mutually agreeing” to part ways only happens when a player requests to be released. In football, you read about it in the news when you get let go of, never do you get a face-to-face meeting with the owner. Watt himself proved this to be true in a video he posted on Twitter stating that he requested to be cut.
Houston, I wanted you to hear this directly from me… pic.twitter.com/YqT3P6Lb6l
— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) February 12, 2021
Watt has been the face of the Texans franchise ever since he inherited the role from star wide receiver Andre Johnson, who left the Texans after the 2014 season concluded. The ten-year veteran has piled up the accolades during his time in Houston, producing a career worthy of a gold jacket. Watt is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, and he made the First-Team All-Pro five times, as well as Second-Team All-Pro three times. In 2017 he was awarded the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. He is one of just 35 players to cross the career 100-sack mark, a statistic that has been tracked dating back to 1982.
Watt was set to be an unrestricted free agent after this season. One would believe that with a $17,500,000 contract and a star quarterback whose numbers rivaled Patrick Mahomes, that he would be more than happy to play his 11th year in Houston. What the release of J.J. Watt conveys is what many fans had concluded during their rough season: that the Texans are in desperate need of a rebuild. This has been a crowdsourced belief, ever since the Texans dealt one of the league’s best wide receivers in DeAndre Hopkins, for an old and oft-injured David Johnson. Releasing Watt all but validates people’s beliefs that Watson is leaving and Houston must act quickly because after the NFL Draft Watson’s return value will diminish.
Number 99 has led the Texans in tackles for loss in every healthy season since he joined the organization. What does Watt leaving mean for the NFL? He certainly did not ask to leave the Texans to seek out a big payday. In his ten seasons, Watt has earned over $100,000,000. Watt is going to be looking to join a contender to try to win a Super Bowl in his remaining productive seasons. I expect Watt to go to a legitimate Super Bowl contender on a team-friendly deal. Going to play for his hometown Green Bay Packers, or with his brothers, T.J. and Derek seems like obvious choices. However, I expect Watt to push emotions aside and make a decision built solely on winning a Super Bowl.
For the Houston Texans, this is a big loss. The Texans also have Lovie Smith coming in as their defensive coordinator under new Head Coach David Culley. This likely means that the Texans will be shifting from a 3-4 defense to a base 4-3. Philosophically, this is a change that normally takes multiple seasons to coach up and get appropriate players into a place where they can succeed. The 3-4 defense that Houston employed since Vrabel was running the show is based on having multiple interchangeable parts and asking players to execute multiple different techniques. The 4-3 defense is more specialized. Players are asked to do a specific task over and over again until they can execute it to perfection. This means that offenses will no longer be funneled into the teeth of the defense where inside linebackers Zach Cunningham and Tyrell Adams accounted for nearly 40% of the team’s total tackles.
Expect the Texan’s defense to be a wasteland. They are coming off a 4-12 season in which they had the third-worst defensive DVOA according to the Football Outsiders. Only Detroit and Jacksonville performed worse defensively than the Texans did last year. Compounding this, the Texans would be picking third overall and have the 35th overall pick to select quality defenders, however, those picks were dealt to Miami in the Laremy Tunsil trade. When Watson departs from Houston, barring a Godfather-type of an offer, the Texans will have the least talented roster in the NFL.
While it is too far out to project, there are some incredible defensive prospects eligible for the 2022 NFL Draft. Landing a player like Kayvon Thibodeaux from Oregon or Derek Stingley Jr. from LSU would add a much-needed shot of adrenaline through the veins of a franchise that appears to be doomed.
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