JJ Watt has finally made his free agency decision, and it surprised many.
The three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year considered his long list of suitors for about three weeks and ended up in the desert on a two-year deal with the Arizona Cardinals, as team and player announced on Monday.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter specified that the contract is worth $31 million in total with $23 million of that fully guaranteed.
Watt was already riding in team owner Michael Bidwill’s plane on his way to Arizona on Monday, quickly addressing the media on the tarmac after he landed.
“I’m excited to get started,” Watt said. “Very excited to get started, get to work, get to know the people of Arizona.”
Watt’s change of scenery comes after a legendary 10-year career with the Houston Texans came to an unceremonious end in January when the 31-year-old asked to be released due to some serious mismanagement that has also led their franchise quarterback, Deshaun Watson, to demand a trade. Houston granted Watt’s request, but have remained staunch in their stance concerning Watson.
Another glaring error in Houston’s recent mismanagement was last offseason when they traded elite wideout DeAndre Hopkins—probably a top five talent in the league at his position—for an over-the-hill David Johnson (he missed four games in 2020) and a bag of Doritos.
Nuk had been campaigning to get a reunion going with Watt in the desert over the past couple of weeks, and he got his wish.
“Life is good in Arizona,” as Hopkins tweeted after the news of Watt’s signing broke on Monday.
However, the signing has not convinced everyone that Arizona are all of a sudden contenders. Some of those who don’t believe are the sportsbooks and oddsmakers, who still have Arizona at +3,300 long shot NFL odds (888sport) to win it all next year. You would think that an addition like Watt would increase their odds to win the Super Bowl, but apparently not.
That could be because of the high-level of competition that Arizona can expect to face in 2021. They play in the NFC West, which is one of the toughest in football, and they also share a conference with Aaron Rodgers’ Green Bay Packers (who were one of Watt’s top options in free agency) and Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Not to mention our top pick to win next year’s Lombardi Trophy in the AFC: Patrick Mahomes’ Kansas City Chiefs, at +500 odds.
The Packers would have seemed like the best option for Watt considering the fact that they have an elite, Hall of Fame QB in Rodgers running a high-octane offense. The Pack seem just a few defensive pieces away from beating Brady, but instead Watt chose to go to the Cardinals, where young franchise quarterback Kyler Murray has yet to play a postseason game and seems another couple of years away from being Super Bowl caliber.
Many have pointed to the fact that Watt will now be paired with Cardinals standout pass rusher Chandler Jones as a reason to expect a lot more from Arizona in 2021, often invoking this stat in the process: Jones (97) and Watt (95.5) are one and two in most sacks since 2012.
The only problem with that logic is that Jones and Watt are both 31 now, and they combined for just six sacks last season. Can two 30-something defensive ends really carry a non-playoff team in 2020 to a Super Bowl in the next two years? Watt must think so, or else he would not have signed in Arizona.
Watt’s track record is impressive since he was drafted in the first round by Houston back in 2011: three DPOY awards, five Pro Bowls, five First-Team All-Pro choices, two-time NFL sacks leader, 2010s All-Decade Team, and 101 career sacks (Texans franchise record).
However, he has had a lot of trouble staying on the field since winning his last DPOY in 2015, playing just 48 of a possible 80 games over the past five seasons. Watt did play all 16 games last season, however.
Considering the fact that the Cardinals remain last in terms of odds to win the NFC West at +550 NFL odds (888sport), a flier on them that they’ve shown a real commitment to winning now could prove to be very profitable: the Rams will be gelling with a new QB, the Russell Wilson saga is bad news for Seattle, and the Niners still believe Jimmy Garappolo is the guy to lead them to the promised land.
Stranger things have happened than the Cards winning that division in 2021. Watt seems at 100 percent in terms of health, happiness, and confidence heading into this new chapter of his NFL career, which is definitely a positive sign for Arizona fans.
“The one thing I can promise you is I’m going to work my ass off every single day to make you proud. Very proud to be part of the ‘Bird Gang’ and the ‘Red Sea,’” Watt said in a message to his new team and its fans.