J. J. Watt

Cardinals Activate J.J. Watt From PUP List

J.J. Watt is now firmly on track for the Cardinals’ season opener. The team activated its high-profile free agency addition from the active/PUP list Monday. Watt had missed all of Arizona’s training camp due to a hamstring injury.

The Cardinals gave Watt a two-year, $28MM deal, beating out several other teams, and are hoping to pair the five-time All-Pro with Chandler Jones. Watt’s injury and Jones’ contract-related disenchantment have not made this an especially smooth camp for Cards pass rushers, but the duo is as of now en route to begin the season in Arizona’s lineup.

Watt missed most of the 2016 and ’17 seasons due to injury and saw a torn pectoral muscle sideline him for a lengthy stretch in 2019, but the future Hall of Fame pass rusher did play 16-game slates in 2018 and in 2020. This hamstring injury, which occurred during a conditioning test at the outset of camp, did not represent a great sign for Watt’s durability going into a 17-game season. But the Cardinals have exercised caution with the 32-year-old defensive end. His missing Week 1 due to this injury did not appear to be on the table.

Arizona also activated linebacker Dennis Gardeck from its PUP list. Gardeck suffered an ACL tear last season. The Cardinals still re-signed the former UDFA in April and hope to redeploy him for a fourth season. Gardeck has been one of the Cards’ top special-teamers, playing more than 70% of Arizona’s special teams snaps in each of his three seasons.

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Cardinals Targeting Week 1 J.J. Watt Return

The Cardinals acquired a few standout talents this offseason, but J.J. Watt was unquestionably their highest-profile addition. However, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year has not yet taken the field for his new team at training camp due to a hamstring injury.

It does not sound like the Cardinals are expecting Watt to return soon. The 11th-year defensive end remains on the team’s active/PUP list and may not be ready to come off it during the team’s preseason slate. Kliff Kingsbury, however, said he will feel comfortable deploying Watt in Week 1 even if he only practices in the days leading up to that game, per AZCardinals.com’s Darren Urban (via Twitter).

Watt said Saturday he feels “great” and expects to be on the field for the Cards’ season opener. He felt hamstring discomfort during his conditioning test at the outset of training camp. Watt’s injury has come at a time in which Chandler Jones has gone through practice disgruntled. Arizona’s other All-Pro pass rusher requested a trade late last month. As of now, both are expected to be on the field when the Cardinals face the Titans on Sept. 12, but neither is in an ideal situation at this juncture.

The Cards gave Watt a two-year, $28MM deal with $20MM guaranteed this offseason, winning a wide-ranging free agency pursuit. Watt has made it through two of the past three seasons healthy, but injuries halted the dominant stretch he crafted and have played a key role in the past several years of his career. Watt suffered season-ending injuries in 2016 and ’17 — a back malady and a tibial plateau fracture, respectively — and missed a lengthy stretch in 2019 due to a torn pectoral muscle.

While the Cardinals expect to have their recently acquired defensive end on the field when their regular season starts, Watt’s injury history amplifies any health-related setback he encounters.

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NFC West Notes: Seahawks, Watt, 49ers

Following a season in which the Seahawks failed to reach the NFC championship game for a sixth straight year, Russell Wilson set about communicating his goals for what he views as the second half of his career with his camp. Those goals center around returning the Seahawks to a Super Bowl-caliber team. Wilson then brought those to Pete Carroll, per Albert Breer of SI.com, who notes the perennial Pro Bowl passer communicated he wants more say regarding the direction of the team.

Wilson also mentioned to Carroll he would like the Seahawks to make a genuine investment in a high-end offensive lineman, Breer adds. The Seahawks did trade for Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown in 2018, but he will turn 36 this year and is signed only through 2021. And they have not otherwise made big moves on their offensive front in recent years. Beyond guard Damien Lewis, the Seahawks could certainly use more help up front. One of Wilson’s goals — a new offensive philosophy — has come to pass, with Breer adding Wilson was “fully on board” with new OC Shane Waldron.

For what it’s worth, the 32-year-old quarterback does not expect to be traded. But he has, as you may have heard, revealed a destination list. And the Bears are taking that quite seriously. Here is the latest from the NFC West:

  • The Seahawks have a few of their defensive contributors on track for free agency. One of those UFAs-to-be, Shaquill Griffin, is not certain he will return to Seattle. “I would love to be back in Seattle, but I know there’s a business aspect behind it,” Griffin said during an appearance on the NFL Network’s Good Morning Football (via OregonLive.com). “But that organization knows I love it over there — the fans and coaches know how much I love Seattle. But at the end of the day, I know it’s strictly business.” This puts him in a similar position to K.J. Wright, who wants to stay but not on a hometown discount. The Seahawks have less than $5MM in cap space, so the franchise will need to create a bit more cap room going into free agency.
  • In order to preserve some cap space in a year in which the cap is expected to decline for only the second time ever, the Cardinals structured J.J. Watt‘s contract unusually. Watt’s two-year, $28MM deal ($31MM max value, via incentives) will only count $4.9MM on Arizona’s 2021 cap sheet, per OverTheCap. The Cards have tacked on three void years to prorate Watt’s signing bonus. Those years will void in 2023, creating $7.2MM in dead money, CBS Sports’ Joel Corry tweets. With the cap expected to go up again starting in 2022, it is not surprising to see the Cardinals opt to preserve cap space this year and worry about additional charges down the line. They still hold $12MM-plus in cap room; that sits in NFL’s top half.
  • Even though Trent Williams has expressed interest in staying in San Francisco, the 49ers are unlikely to keep the decorated left tackle off the market. Williams cannot be tagged. Were Williams to depart, the 49ers would have a major void up front. They should not be considered a destination for disgruntled Ravens tackle Orlando Brown, per Matt Barrows of The Athletic, who notes Brown’s 345-pound frame and mobility issues make him a poor fit for Kyle Shanahan‘s scheme (subscription required). The Ravens are listening to offers on Brown, who wants to play left tackle.

AFC North Notes: Conner, Ravens, Browns

No notable extension talks between the Steelers and James Conner transpired ahead of his contract year, which doubled as a brutally ineffective season for Pittsburgh’s ground game. The team is not expected to re-sign Conner, Brooke Pryor of ESPN.com notes. Considering the Pittsburgh native’s history of nagging injuries and the Steelers’ salary cap issues, this should not be especially surprising. Conner has played well in spurts, initially starting the Steelers’ post-Le’Veon Bell era so strong he made the Pro Bowl as an original invitee. However, an injury slowed Conner late in that 2018 season. He battled maladies in 2019 and ’20 as well; the cancer survivor also contracted COVID-19 last year. This will create a clear need at running back in Pittsburgh, even with the likes of Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland still under contract.

Conner may need to accept a one-year deal in order to re-establish his value, perhaps putting him in the same boat as fellow 2017 draftee Marlon Mack. These two will join Chris Carson and Kenyan Drake, barring extensions commencing before March 17, in free agency. The Packers have four days to use their franchise tag on Aaron Jones.

Here is the latest from the AFC North:

  • Financial issues likely contributed to the Steelers not adding J.J. Watt to their stable of Watts. Although the Steelers have standout defensive ends Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt, they were in the mix for the eldest Watt until the end, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com tweets. The Steelers were one of the teams mentioned as a landing spot hours after the Texans released Watt. The five-time All-Pro would have welcomed the opportunity to join his brothers, per Fowler, despite the Steelers being stacked at his position. But the former Texans superstar signed with the Cardinals, who took a clear lead in the final few days of this process.
  • Ravens GM Eric DeCosta did not seem to view the addition of a No. 1-type wide receiver as critical this offseason, and Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com adds that the team is not expected to spring for one. The Ravens have young players Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin under contract, but Hensley notes the team is unlikely to bring back Willie Snead. Signing a second-tier wideout does not sound out of the question, with several intriguing names available and more potentially coming via the cap-casualty route soon. But Baltimore’s run-oriented offense will make going the free agency route at this position more complicated. The team ranked last in wide receiver receptions (137) last season.
  • The Browns are not planning to use an RFA tender on backup defensive back and key special-teamer Tavierre Thomas, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com tweets. With the cap going down, teams may be stingier with their tender offers. Thomas could be brought back at a lower rate than what the low-end tender will cost (roughly $2.1MM), but the fourth-year player may hit the market.

Details On J.J. Watt’s Cardinals Deal

Earlier this week, J.J. Watt joined up with the Cardinals on a two-year deal. Now, we have most of the major details, courtesy of NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport and Mike Garafolo (Twitter links). Here’s the breakdown of Watt’s shiny new contract: 

  • Two years, $31MM maximum value
  • $28MM in base salary + $3MM in incentives based on sack totals
    • 10 sacks in 2021 = $1MM in 2021 + $1MM escalator for 2022
    • 10 sacks in 2022 = $1MM incentive
  • $12MM signing bonus
  • $14.5MM Year 1 base value
  • No-trade clause

After the Texans granted Watt’s request to be released, the veteran said that he wanted to join a contender. In Watt’s estimation, young head coach Kliff Kingsbury and quarterback Kyler Murray are ready to win straight away. It also helps that the Cardinals appear to have submitted the highest offer for his services.

The Browns and Colts — who both made the playoffs in 2020 — didn’t match the Cardinals on compensation. The Titans, Packers, and Steelers were also connected to the three-time Defensive Player of the Year. Watt is now one of just nine players whose contract includes a no-trade clause.

Now, with Watt in the fold, the Cardinals may allow Haason Reddick to walk while putting their available dollars elsewhere.

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Browns, Colts Did Not Match Cardinals’ J.J. Watt Offer

The Cardinals came out of the J.J. Watt sweepstakes a surprise winner. It took a two-year, $31MM deal, with $23MM guaranteed, for Watt to head to the desert. This was not the only offer the former Texans great received.

A report indicated the three-time Defensive Player of the Year turned down more money from the Browns and Colts. However, that may not be the case. Both 2020 playoff teams did not top the Cardinals’ offer, according to cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot and The Athletic’s Stephen Holder (on Twitter).

The Browns were viewed as an early Watt finalist, and while the team may well have been in it until the end, Cabot notes Cleveland’s offer did not reach the $15MM-AAV place. The Browns’ proposal likely landed in the $12MM-per-year range, per Cabot. Under Chris Ballard, the Colts are known for their patience with free agency and trades — as was the case with the team’s Matthew Stafford talks — and Holder wonders if the team was even a high bidder for Watt.

Watt targeted a team with a sound quarterback situation. The Cardinals have that box checked in Kyler Murray, with Watt indicating Tuesday that his belief in the young dual-threat star helped lead him to Arizona (Twitter links via ESPN.com’s Josh Weinfuss). Cardinals DC Vance Joseph, who was with the Texans during Watt’s early years in Houston, is believed to have led the Cards’ recruitment effort, Albert Breer of SI.com notes. Watt confirmed Joseph was a key factor in his decision to head west.

Cleveland still intends on adding a major piece to team with Myles Garrett, while Indianapolis currently resides in the top five in cap space. The Browns and Colts, respectively, have Olivier Vernon and Justin Houston on track for free agency. The Colts have not ruled out re-signing Houston — whom they gave a two-year, $24MM contract in 2019 — but he will turn 32 this year.

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Cardinals To Sign J.J. Watt

The J.J. Watt sweepstakes are over. The heavily decorated pass-rusher has chosen his next team, and that’ll be the Cardinals, Watt announced himself on Twitter.

This was no cheap signing for a veteran player chasing a ring, Watt got paid. He’s getting a two-year deal worth a whopping $31MM with $23MM of that guaranteed, a source told Ian Rapoport of NFL Network (Twitter link). Watt made it known from the outset that he only wanted to go to a place where he could win a Super Bowl, and clearly he’s excited about what Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray have cooking.

We heard last week that Watt had received an offer in the $15-16MM range, and that turned out to be spot on. He was also connected to playoff teams like the Browns, Titans, Packers, Steelers, and a couple of others. Watt will now rejoin former Texans teammate Deandre Hopkins, who recruited him on social media, in the desert.

Hopkins won’t be the only familiar face for him, as Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph was on staff in Houston for Watt’s first three pro seasons. It’s a coup for Joseph, who will now have an intimidating pass-rushing duo with Watt lining up opposite fellow All-Pro Chandler Jones.

As Josh Weinfuss of ESPN tweeted, Jones is first in the NFL in sacks since 2012, and Watt is second. They’ll be a problem for any offensive line. The three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year had struggled with injuries for a few seasons, but he played all 16 games in 2020.

He only registered five sacks but was a constant disruptor, and had 14 tackles for loss and seven passes defended. He still graded out very well in most pass-rush pressure metrics.

Watt is the first massive domino to fall with the start of free agency right around the corner. This signing could mean the Cards are planning to move on from impending free agent Haason Reddick, who just registered 12.5 sacks in a breakout 2020 campaign. Arizona will host Houston in 2021, so Watt will have a chance at revenge on his old team. The question now becomes whether he’ll be chasing Deshaun Watson or not when that game happens.

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The Only NFL Players With No-Trade Clauses

It’s fairly common for disgruntled NFL players to give their teams a short list of acceptable trade destinations. However, it’s still quite rare for players to hold contractual veto power over a trade. Currently, there are only nine NFL players with a no-trade clause in their deals, as ESPN.com’s Field Yates tweets

▪️ Drew Brees, QB (Saints)
▪️ Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, OL (Chiefs)
▪️ Jimmy Garoppolo, QB (49ers)
▪️ Jimmy Graham, TE (Bears)
▪️ DeAndre Hopkins, WR (Cardinals)
▪️ Patrick Mahomes, QB (Chiefs)
▪️ Deshaun Watson, QB (Texans)
▪️ J.J. Watt, DL (Cardinals)
▪️ Russell Wilson, QB (Seahawks)

The Chiefs, who represent 25% of the list, furnished LDT with a NTC as a part of his contract restructure. Historically, there haven’t been many offensive lineman to secure the clause. However, Duvernay-Tardif had a bit of leverage in 2020 when the Chiefs needed extra cap room. He was scheduled to count for nearly $9MM, $6.45MM of which was comprised of base salary. Instead, he converted some of that money into a signing bonus over the remaining three years and came away with a perk typically reserved for quarterbacks.

Watson and Wilson are among the QBs who can block trades. They’re both putting it to use, albeit in different ways. Watson wants out — even after finally meeting with new head coach David Culley – and he’s steering himself towards a small group of teams, including the Dolphins and Panthers. Wilson, meanwhile, says that he doesn’t want to get traded and doesn’t expect to get traded. But, if the Seahawks do shop him, he wouldn’t mind joining up with the Bears, Cowboys, Saints or Raiders. In beating out several other teams for Watt, the Cardinals included the clause in the star defender’s contract.

J.J. Watt Received Offer Worth $15MM-$16MM?

The J.J. Watt sweepstakes is starting to heat up. ESPN’s Dianna Russini reports that the three-time Defensive Player of the Year has “received contract offers from multiple teams.” The most lucrative offer is believed to be in the $15MM to $16MM range, per Russini.

A handful of teams have continually been connected to Watt, including the Cleveland Browns. ESPN’s report notes that it’s uncertain if the Browns are one of the squads that have submitted an offer to the veteran pass rusher. Cleveland is armed with more than $30MM in cap space and was previously deemed a legitimate threat to sign Watt.

The Bills, Packers, and Titans have also been listed as potential landing spots for the 31-year-old. Each of those three teams currently remain over the cap, so they’ve got some financial hurdles to overcome before they could definitively sign Watt to a lucrative contract. The Titans already started with some cap-saving movies, including their reported release of wideout Adam Humphries from earlier today.

One team that apparently won’t be landing Watt is the Steelers. Earlier this week, veteran NFL reporter John Clayton said that Pittsburgh won’t be a landing spot for the former Texans standout.

Watt may be getting older, but that doesn’t mean he still can’t be productive in the right role. His five sacks in 2020 were his lowest total in a 16-game campaign (but a glass-half-full mentality would observe that a 16-game season is encouraging in and of itself). Plus, Watt graded as Pro Football Focus’ No. 7 overall edge defender in 2020, with the advanced metrics site praising the veteran’s work against the run and pass.

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Latest On J.J. Watt Market

J.J. Watt‘s free agency stay has surpassed the 10-day mark. While the future Hall of Famer’s destination remains unknown, he may be narrowing down his list.

The 10-year veteran defensive end will not join the Steelers, according to John Clayton of ESPN 710 Seattle. During an appearance on 93.7 The Fan Pittsburgh, Clayton indicated Watt is still considering the Bills, Packers and Titans, with the Raiders looming as a dark-horse suitor. The veteran NFL reporter later added the Browns are also still in the mix (Twitter links).

Buffalo and Tennessee were two of the initial teams linked to Watt shortly after his Houston release. The Bills also surfaced as a potential finalist last week. Titans GM Jon Robinson and HC Mike Vrabel confirmed discussions with Watt have taken place. Vrabel was on Houston’s staff from 2014-17. The Packers trail both the Bills and Titans in cap space for a potential pursuit of the Wisconsin native, but the team has made moves to free up room in recent days. Green Bay, Buffalo and Tennessee each remain over the projected 2021 cap, so each team still has work to do.

The Raiders have not been shy about pursuing veterans under Jon Gruden, and the team has not truly replaced Khalil Mack since the summer 2018 trade. The franchise has not finished with a scoring defense ranked in the top 16 since 2002. Watt would certainly help on this front, though the Raiders are currently nearly $20MM over the projected cap. That trails the Browns, Bills, Packers and Titans.

After contacting Watt’s camp on the day of his release, the Browns were the first team reported as being in the mix to sign the three-time Defensive Player of the Year. Cleveland has Buffalo and Tennessee outflanked for cap space and spent much of the 2020 offseason chasing Jadeveon Clowney to team with Myles Garrett. Even if Watt decides to head elsewhere, the Browns are expected to acquire a Garrett pass-rushing wingman this offseason.

Although the Steelers have fellow Watts T.J. and Derek, their cap situation makes adding big-ticket free agents dicey. Pittsburgh is still ironing out details of Ben Roethlisberger‘s impending return, which will require an adjustment from his league-high $41MM-plus cap number.

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