As the Cardinals’ season winds down, the team has little remaining to play for given their collective struggles as a team. For defensive end J.J. Watt, however, the final two weeks of the 2022 regular season will mark his last action in the NFL. The veteran announced (on Twitter) that he is retiring at the end of the campaign.
Specifically, Watt called Arizona’s Christmas Day loss to the Buccaneers his “last ever NFL home game.” The Cardinals close out the season with road contests against the Falcons and 49ers, which will allow him two final opportunities to add to his illustrious career and substantial statistical accomplishments.
The 33-year-old will, of course, be best remembered for his 10-year stint in Houston after he was drafted 11th overall in 2011 by the Texans. Over the course of that span, Watt established himself as a sure-fire Hall of Famer and one of the most decorated defensive players in league history. The Wisconsin alum broke out in his second season, leading the league with 20.5 sacks. That earned him Defensive Player of the Year honors, along with his first All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors.
His production continued for years after that, as he strung together three consecutive All-Pro and Pro Bowl seasons after his 2012 performance. Watt topped the league in sacks once again in 2015, the third year in which he was named the league’s best defensive player. One season prior, he finished second in MVP voting as he was the focal point of the Texans’ defense in particular and franchise as a whole.
That 2014 year saw Watt sign a six-year, $100MM extension to keep him in Houston. He remained with the Texans through the 2020 campaign – at which point many other franchise pillars were no longer in the fold and the team’s playoff runs of the mid-2010s had begun to give way to the rebuilding phase it now finds itself in. In total, Watt racked up 101 sacks and 25 forced fumbles during his time in Houston, establishing himself as a highly-respected off-the-field pillar along the way.
The 2017 Walter Payton Man of the Year winner became one of the most sought-after free agents last offseason, as he looked for a new home to continue his career amidst turmoil in Houston. He ultimately landed in Arizona, signing a two year contract worth $31MM. Questions were raised in the aftermath of his decision with respect to his potential remaining production, in no small part due to his injury history. Watt missed considerable time in 2016, 2017 and 2019. To perhaps little surprise, then, he was limited to only seven contests in his inaugural campaign with the Cardinals.
The 2010s All-Decade member posted just one sack in 2021, which tempered expectations for him heading into his twelfth NFL season. Watt has turned back the clock this year, however; he leads the Cardinals with 9.5 sacks, his highest total since 2018, the season in which he earned his fifth All-Pro and Pro Bowl nods. Watt has been a mainstay of the Cardinals’ defense all year, missing only the season opener and logging a snap share of 77% on the campaign.
Watt’s 111.5 career sacks rank 26th all time and fourth amongst active players. He will have the opportunity to climb those lists even more in his last two games, as he is only one-half sack behind Chandler Jones and one behind Cam Jordan. Regardless of his performance over the course of the next two weeks, Watt – who has amassed more than $115MM in career earnings – will go down as one of the top defensive linemen in league history.
“My heart is filled with nothing but love and gratitude,” he wrote in his retirement announcement. “It’s been an absolute honor and a pleasure.”