J. J. Watt

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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Browns Likely To Sign Pass Rusher In Free Agency

The Browns remain in the mix to sign veteran defensive end J.J. Watt, as Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com writes. We heard earlier this week that Cleveland is a legitimate suitor for Watt, and the former Texans star remains intrigued by what the Browns have to offer.

Watt has earned over $100MM from his playing career alone, and he has made it clear that he wants to sign with a team that has a strong quarterback and a legitimate chance of winning a title. However, Cabot says Watt also wants to get paid, and the Browns have just under $30MM in cap room at the moment thanks to a league-leading $30.4MM in rollover space. So from a financial perspective, Cleveland is better positioned than any other club in the Watt sweepstakes.

In addition to the financial and competitiveness considerations, Watt also wants to go to a team that already boasts a talented defensive front. That is perhaps because he was double-teamed more than any other player in 2020, which certainly contributed to his modest five-sack total. Despite that, he graded out as the seventh-best edge player in the league per Pro Football Focus’ advanced metrics, and with Myles Garrett wreaking havoc and attracting his own double-teams on the opposite side of the line, Watt would have a real chance to put up some of the gaudy raw stats that he enjoyed earlier in his career.

But the Watt race is far from over, and even if the Browns are unable to land him, Cabot says that the club is expected to make a major addition to its pass rushing contingent in free agency. They could draft a pass rusher as well, but Cabot expects the Browns to have serious interest in all of the QB hunters who might hit the open market.

That includes Von Miller, who may be released by the Broncos. Miller is not going to be back in Denver at his current base salary of $17.5MM, and if he and the Broncos cannot agree to a reworked deal, he could be on his way out. One of the most prolific pass rushers of the past decade, Miller is four days younger than Watt, and though he missed the entire 2020 campaign due to an ankle injury, he has generally been more durable than his fellow 2011 first-rounder. Spotrac currently pegs Miller as a $10MM/year player, and if the Browns can get him on a contract with a $10MM AAV, they might jump at the chance.

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Latest On Packers, J.J. Watt

The Packers have been listed as a potential suitor for J.J. Watt, but at least one reporter is skeptical of the connection. Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel tweets that the Packers “are not going to sign Watt.”

Silverstein specifically cites the team’s financial situation, noting that the organization has several of their own free agents who they need to re-sign. “Unless the market somehow collapses,” Silverstein believes the Packers wouldn’t be able to match Watt’s ultimate price tag.

The Packers have been mentioned as a potential match for Watt since November, long before he was cut by the Texans last week. Since he hit free agency, we’ve heard both pundits and bookies point to Green Bay as a landing spot, and SI’s Bill Huber definitively stated that the Packers “are one of the teams interested” in Watt. ESPN’s Ed Werder also tweeted this week that Watt’s “most important consideration” in choosing his next team (and winning a Super Bowl) was quarterback, making the Packers and Aaron Rodgers a natural fit. And, to top it all off, Watt is from Pewaukee, Wisconsin and attended the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

While the Packers may not be a realistic suitor for Watt, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year isn’t struggling to find his next gig. The Bills, Browns, Titans, and Steelers have all been linked to the 31-year-old over the past week-plus.

While Watt’s getting up there in age, there are still some signs of encouragement. Sure, he finished with five sacks, his lowest total in a 16-game campaign … but the fact that he managed to appear in 16 games (for the second time in three seasons, no less) is encouraging on its own. He also 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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AFC South Rumors: Texans, Watt, Colts

Although the breaking point for Deshaun Watson came when the Texans did not keep him in the loop on their hires this offseason, he shared his frustration to coaches and management after last year’s DeAndre Hopkins trade. Then-Texans GM Bill O’Brien assured Watson he would be kept abreast on big-picture decisions going forward, according to Mike Sando, Aaron Reiss and Jason Jenks of The Athletic (subscription required). Watson voicing those concerns following the Hopkins swap also led to the no-trade clause in his Texans extension. However, the quarterback became further disillusioned with the franchise as the regular season progressed. After the Texans’ losses piled up and Cal McNair fired O’Brien, Watson questioned the team’s direction, per The Athletic. Shortly before Watson signed his extension, he said he “loved” the McNairs, the organization and Houston. The Texans have insisted they are not interested in trading Watson, but several teams are interested. And the three-time Pro Bowler has shown no indication he will back down.

Here is the latest from the AFC South:

  • Watson’s longtime teammate, J.J. Watt, has been on the market a week. He has been connected to a few teams, including the Titans. After GM Jon Robinson confirmed the team had engaged in discussions with Watt, Mike Vrabel — Watt’s former defensive coordinator in Houston — addressed the possibility of a signing. “You mentioned J.J. Watt, and there will be other veteran players that become available that we’ll have discussions on, and we have had discussions on J.J. Watt,” Vrabel said during a call with season-ticket holders. “… There’s a lot of things that go into bringing in free agents, certainly ones that are past 30 or in the back half of their career.” Vrabel was the Texans’ linebackers coach from 2014-16 and DC in 2017. The Titans signed ex-Vrabel charge Jadeveon Clowney last year, but he is on track for free agency. And Tennessee’s pass rush remains in need of bolstering.
  • Although Matthew Stafford viewed the Colts as a possibility during his time on the trade block, Indianapolis did not offer its first-round pick for the 12-year Detroit starter. Washington and Carolina offered first-rounders and change, while the Rams won out with their monster proposal. The Colts, though, were a bit concerned about the 33-year-old quarterback’s level of play and whether it would end up being worth a big trade package, Stephen Holder of The Athletic notes. Frank Reich‘s history with Carson Wentz undoubtedly played a key role in the Colts taking a gamble on the longtime Eagles starter, and the team ended up retaining its 2021 first- and second-round picks in doing so.
  • The Texans are hiring former Lions character coach Dylan Thompson for a similar role, Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle tweets. A former UDFA quarterback who moved to an off-field NFL role, Thompson is a friend of embattled Texans executive VP Jack Easterby‘s, Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk notes. His relationship with Easterby helped lead to his job in Detroit and previously with the Charleston Southern basketball program.

Mutual Interest Between J.J. Watt, Bills

Although he is about to turn 32 years old and just posted the lowest single-season sack total of any season in which he was able play a full slate of games, J.J. Watt finds himself in high demand. The former face of the Texans, released by Houston last week, looks like a good bet to land a multi-year pact in short order.

Over the weekend, Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News suggested that the Bills, who were among the teams linked to Watt in the immediate aftermath of his release, are unlikely to make a major free agent splash this offseason. Instead, Carucci said he expects Buffalo to use the majority of its cash on an extension for QB Josh Allen, which would keep the club out of the hunt for premier free agents like Watt.

However, ESPN’s Kimberley A. Martin reported that the Bills have indeed inquired about Watt, and that the interest is mutual (Twitter link). Carucci’s sources confirmed as much, saying that the Bills and Watt’s agent, Tom Condon, have been communicating. Interestingly, Condon also represents Allen, so perhaps he and Buffalo GM Brandon Beane can get a lot of work done over the coming days.

Watt is looking to join a contender with a top-tier quarterback, and the Bills, fresh off an AFC Championship Game appearance, certainly qualify. But there are about six teams that remain in the running, including the Browns, Titans, Steelers, and Packers, and all of them made the postseason in 2020. So while Carucci hears that Watt may start narrowing down his list in the coming days, it’s difficult to find a true frontrunner at the moment.

It’s easy to see why the Bills are seriously considering Watt. In addition to the fact that he is seen as a good fit with the team-first culture that Beane and head coach Sean McDermott have helped create in western New York, the Bills were just 20th in the league in quarterback pressures last season, and their top two defensive ends, Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison, are 32 and 33, respectively. Of course, Watt isn’t too far behind in terms of age, but while Watt graded out as the seventh-best edge defender in the league last year according to Pro Football Focus’ advanced metrics, Addison was the No. 78 ED.

The Bills are right up against the cap, so theoretically, they could release Addison to create a little more than $6MM in space and then put that money towards a contract for Watt. Spotrac projects a two-year, $24MM deal for the five-time First Team All-Pro.

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Titans Have Had Contact With J.J. Watt

The J.J. Watt sweepstakes appear to be heating up. We heard earlier this morning that the Browns were seriously in the running for the pass-rusher’s services, and we now know of at least one more AFC team that has already had some communication with him.

The Titans have had contact with Watt’s camp, GM Jon Robinson confirmed at a press conference Tuesday. There had been an initial report days ago that Tennessee was expected to be in the running. Robinson emphasized that it was early and talks were still in the exploratory stage, but it’s now official that Houston’s AFC South rival is interested in keeping him in the division.

Wherever he lands, it sounds like there’s going to be somewhat of a bidding war between numerous interested teams, and even though he’s about to turn 32 we should expect him to land significant guaranteed money at this point. Tennessee, of course, could desperately use Watt’s help getting after opposing quarterbacks.

They had one of the worst pass-rushes in the league last season, and their big offseason splash acquisition of Jadeveon Clowney didn’t work out as he played in only eight games and registered no sacks before getting shutdown. The Steelers and Bills are other teams reported to be interested in the Texans legend so far, although there will surely be more.

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Browns In Mix To Sign J.J. Watt

Shortly after J.J. Watt became a free agent Friday, the Browns reached out about being the future Hall of Famer’s second NFL employer. They may be one of the finalists to sign the ex-Texan.

Watt is seriously considering a Browns agreement, according to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The Browns’ salary cap situation and newfound status as a contender are helping in their pursuit of Watt, Cabot adds. Watt asked the Texans for a release that would allow him to land with a contending team.

The Browns joined the Steelers, Titans and Bills, along with several other teams, in expressing interest in the three-time Defensive Player of the Year. Of Watt’s known suitors, Cleveland holds the most cap space. While the Browns do not possess a tremendous amount of space, at barely $20MM, only seven teams hold even north of $30MM in an offseason that is expected to feature a reduced cap.

Cleveland pursued longtime Watt teammate Jadeveon Clowney for months last year and has an even bigger need this year. Olivier Vernon is both set to be a free agent and coming off an Achilles tear. The Browns could benefit from Watt’s ability as an inside rusher as well, with defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi also a free agent-to-be.

While giving the Browns a checkmark for roster quality would have been a laughable proposition in most 21st-century offseasons, team is coming off a road playoff win and stands to return most (if not all) of its starters on offense. The team has high-end defensive pieces in Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward but needs help on that side of the ball. Cleveland ranked 25th in defensive DVOA last season.

Although Watt finished a 16-game season as a non-first-team All-Pro for the first time since 2011, the five-time All-Pro still graded as Pro Football Focus’ No. 7 overall edge defender. Set for his age-32 season, Watt signing with Cleveland would allow him to team with Garrett and see fewer double-teams than he did during his run with Houston. Watt finished with just five sacks in 2020 but registered 16, with seven forced fumbles, during his previous full season (2018).

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Steelers, Bills, Browns, Titans Among Teams Interested In J.J. Watt

Hours after the Texans released J.J. Watt, the free agency pursuit of the three-time Defensive Player of the Year is underway. Around a dozen teams are interested in the future Hall of Fame defensive end, Ed Werder of ESPN.com tweets.

Among the early pursuers are the Bills, Browns, Titans and Steelers, Werder notes. While Watt would be a fit in most places, each of these teams could use an additional pass rusher. Watt intends to sign with a contender but does not plan on making a final decision until next week.

The Texans received calls on Watt over the past two weeks but opted to grant his release request. Watt will turn 32 later this year. Under his Texans contract, Watt was set to make $17.5MM in 2021. The salary cap reduction and Watt’s injury history may prevent him from a monster free agency deal, but the number of teams in the mix here stands to drive up the veteran’s price — if, in fact, this pursuit will come down to finances.

The Steelers would likely be unable to match some of the top offers for Watt, but they certainly have an interesting selling point. Younger brothers T.J. and Derek Watt are under contract with Pittsburgh for 2021; T.J. is on track for a big-ticket extension in the near future. The Steelers are well over the projected cap, as of Friday, and may have to replace several veteran starters next season. One of those could be free agent Bud Dupree. Pittsburgh’s fit would also be interesting considering their talent at Watt’s position. The Steelers have Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt signed to long-term deals. While Watt has been dominant as an inside and outside pass rusher, the Steelers have two high-end starters at his position.

Coming off their first playoff berth in 18 years, the Browns are projected to be in the league’s top sector in terms of cap space. Olivier Vernon suffered an Achilles tear late in the season, and the defensive end is on track for free agency anyway. The Browns, who will be looking for an edge rusher opposite Myles Garrett, made a steady push for longtime Watt teammate Jadeveon Clowney last year.

The Bills have several veteran defensive ends under contract, but Watt is younger than Buffalo starters Mario Addison and Jerry Hughes. The team that did land Clowney, Tennessee struggled mightily on defense last season. The Titans’ Clowney and Vic Beasley signings produced zero combined sacks. Watt did play under Mike Vrabel for a time in Houston. Both the Titans and Bills reside in the middle of the pack in projected cap space.

While Watt did not make the Pro Bowl, he did play a 16-game season for the second time in three years. Despite major injuries in 2016, ’17 and ’19, 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. His five sacks, however, were a career-low for a season in which he played 16 games. Watt made the most recent of his five All-Pro first teams in 2018, when he recorded 16 sacks and forced seven fumbles. More teams figure to emerge in this pursuit soon.

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Texans Received Calls On J.J. Watt

The Texans granted J.J. Watt‘s request to be released, but interest in taking the future Hall of Famer’s through-2021 contract did emerge in recent days. New Texans GM Nick Caserio took calls on Watt over the past two weeks, according to Charles Robinson of Yahoo.com (on Twitter).

It does not sound like the Texans could have collected a prime asset for the soon-to-be 32-year-old defensive end, who was attached to a $17.5MM 2021 salary. But other teams were willing to acquire him via trade, Robinson notes. Watt is coming off a 16-game season and will certainly generate widespread interest on the open market.

Regarding the three-time Defensive Player of the Year’s future, Watt will prioritize landing with a contending team, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com tweets. No signing is expected before next week. Betonline.ag slots the Steelers, Buccaneers and Packers as the early frontrunners for Watt, while Fowler lists the Patriots, Titans and Rams as other potential destinations. The Bills profile as the best Watt fit, per NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah (on Twitter).

Watt signed a six-year, $100MM extension with the Texans in 2014. While he would have been on track for another record-setting pact had major injuries not intervened in 2016 and ’17, Watt has now played 16-game seasons in two of the past three years.

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Texans Release J.J. Watt

The Texans have released J.J. Watt. Watt, 32 in March, recently suggested that he does not want to be part of a rebuild. Now, he’ll have the opportunity to join a contender. In a video posted to Twitter, Watt reflected fondly on his time in Houston and thanked fans for their years of support. 

I can’t imagine my life without Texas in it. The way you guys treated me — besides draft night, you guys booed me on draft night — every day after that you treated me like family and I truly feel like you are my family,” Watt said. “Since that day, I have tried to do everything in my power to work and earn your respect, and try and make you proud on and off the field. You guys have given me everything and more, and I can only hope that you feel like I’ve given you everything I have.

With a new coaching staff and front office, things were already expected to look a whole lot different in Houston next season. In the last year, the Texans have parted ways with wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, head coach Bill O’Brien, executive GM Brian Gaine, and longtime president Jamey RootesEven if the Texans don’t trade Deshaun Watson, they’ll be down at least one superstar in 2021.

Change is never easy, especially when it involves the ones you love,” Texas CEO Cal McNair said in a statement. “J.J.’s impact on not only our organization, but the entire Houston community, is unlike any player in our franchise’s history. I told J.J. earlier this week that we will forever consider him a Texan. We take solace in knowing that this is not a goodbye but a ‘see you soon.’ For now, we will build upon the foundation that J.J. created here and forge ahead with our unwavering mission to bring a championship to our city, create memorable experiences for our fans and do great things for Houston.”

Watt, a self described “kid from Wisconsin,” was the No. 11 overall pick in the 2011 draft. He went on to appear in 128 games for the Texans across ten seasons, earning five Pro Bowl nods, multiple First-Team All-Pro selections, and three DPOY trophies. He leaves Houston as the team’s all-time leader in sacks (101), tackles for loss (172), quarterback hits (281), and forced fumbles (25).

Per the terms of Watt’s contract — a record-breaker, at the time of signing in 2014 — Watt was set to earn $17.5MM in 2021, which would have been his walk year. However, that sum was completely non-guaranteed, so the Texans will be left with $0 in dead money as they begin a brand new era.

There have been rumblings about a Watt departure, but the news is stunning nonetheless. Watt resonated with Houstonians in a way that few athletes ever have. Between Watt’s impressive work on the field and his humanitarian efforts off of the field, he’ll always be beloved in Texas, even as he finishes his career elsewhere.

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