J. J. Watt

Largest 2022 Cap Hits: Defense

After looking at this year’s top salary cap numbers on the offensive side of the ball, here is a rundown of the players counting the most toward their teams’ payrolls in 2022.

As could be expected, the salary figures here start below the quarterbacks. A few pass rushers, however, are tied to notable cap hits. Those numbers that check in within the top 20 leaguewide regardless of position. With the exception of true nose tackles and pure slot cornerbacks, every defensive position is represented here.

Here are the top cap figures on the defensive side for the ’22 season:

  1. T.J. Watt, OLB (Steelers): $31.12MM
  2. Chris Jones, DT (Chiefs): $29.42MM
  3. Joey Bosa, OLB (Chargers): $28.25MM
  4. Leonard Williams, DL (Giants): $27.3MM
  5. Aaron Donald, DT (Rams): $27MM
  6. Jalen Ramsey, CB (Rams): $23.2MM
  7. Deion Jones, LB (Falcons): $20.1MM
  8. Bud Dupree, OLB (Titans): $19.2MM
  9. Justin Simmons, S (Broncos): $18.85MM
  10. Javon Hargrave, DT (Eagles): $17.8MM
  11. C.J. Mosley, LB (Jets): $17.5MM
  12. Cameron Heyward, DL (Steelers): $17.42MM
  13. Robert Quinn, DE (Bears): $17.14MM
  14. Matt Judon, OLB (Patriots): $16.5MM
  15. DeForest Buckner, DT (Colts): $16MM
  16. Shaquill Griffin, CB (Jaguars): $16.44MM
  17. Tre’Davious White, CB (Bills): $16.4MM
  18. J.J. Watt, DL (Cardinals): $15.9MM
  19. Marcus Peters, CB (Ravens): $15.5MM
  20. Carl Lawson, DE (Jets): $15.33MM
  21. Eddie Jackson, S (Bears): $15.1MM
  22. Lavonte David, LB (Buccaneers): $14.79MM
  23. Budda Baker, S (Cardinals): $14.78MM
  24. Romeo Okwara, DE (Lions): $14.5MM
  25. Trey Hendrickson, DE (Bengals): $14.49MM
  • Illustrating how much the cap has climbed over the past several seasons, T.J. Watt is tied to a number nearly twice that of J.J. Watt, who has been tied to $16.7MM-per-year (a defender-record number in 2014) and $14MM-AAV deals as a pro. Trailing his older brother in Defensive Player of the Year honors, T.J. is signed to an edge defender-record $28MM-per-year accord.
  • Jones’ four-year Chiefs deal vaults from an $8.5MM cap number in 2021 to the league’s second-highest defensive figure this year. The standout defensive tackle’s cap hit accompanies Patrick Mahomes‘ $35.79MM number, which is well north of his 2021 figure, on Kansas City’s new-look payroll.
  • After two franchise tags, Williams scored a monster extension in 2021. The well-paid Giants D-lineman’s cap number this year is way up from his 2021 number ($9.4MM).
  • The Rams redid Donald’s contract last month, adding no new years to the through-2024 pact. The all-world defender’s cap hit actually decreases in 2023, dropping to $26MM
  • It is not certain Deion Jones will be back with the Falcons, who have jettisoned other Super Bowl LI cornerstones from the roster since the current regime took over in 2021. But they would save just $1MM were they to release the seventh-year linebacker.
  • To date, this represents the high-water mark for Mosley cap hits on his Jets deal, which at the time (2019) began a sea change for off-ball linebacker contracts. Mosley’s cap hit, on a pact that runs through 2024 because of the linebacker opting out of the 2020 season, increased by $10MM from 2021-22.
  • Hargrave is one of five Eagles pass rushers signed to veteran contracts. The ex-Steeler’s 2021 deal accompanies Brandon Graham, Josh Sweat, Haason Reddick, and Fletcher Cox‘s new agreement on Philadelphia’s defensive front. As cap hits do not reflect average salaries, Hargrave is the only member of this quartet tied to an eight-figure cap number in 2022.
  • Quinn has also been connected to a departure, with the 31-year-old pass rusher skipping minicamp after it became known he would like to be traded away from the rebuilding team. His cap hit tops the Bears’ payroll. The Bears would save $12.9MM by trading Quinn, should another team sign up for taking on his full 2022 base salary.

Minor NFL Transactions: 1/17/22

Today’s minor transactions around the league:

Arizona Cardinals

Baltimore Ravens

Cincinnati Bengals

Denver Broncos

Los Angeles Rams

Tennessee Titans

Cardinals Open Roster Spot For J.J. Watt

The Cardinals have released cornerback Breon Borders, per a club announcement. This will enable the Cardinals to activate star defensive lineman J.J. Watt in time for Monday night’s game against the Rams. 

[RELATED: Cardinals’ Hopkins Ruled Out] 

Once again, Watt has beaten his recovery timetable to return for the postseason. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year was once thought to be done for the year, thanks to labrum, bicep, and rotator cuff tears. But, somehow, he’s good to go for tomorrow night as the Cardinals look to improve from 38 points allowed against the Seahawks in Week 18.

There’s no doubt that the Cardinals — 7-0 with Watt in the lineup and 4-6 without him — are a better team with the future Hall of Famer playing opposite of Chandler Jones. And, in his limited sample, Pro Football Focus had Watt rated as a top-10 interior defensive lineman this season.

Watt, 32, registered five tackles for loss and ten QB hits in his seven regular season games this year. More of the same will go a long way towards breaking the Cardinals’ playoff win drought, though, on the other side of the ball, they’ll be without star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.

J.J. Watt On Track To Return Vs. Rams

For the second time in three years, J.J. Watt is expected to beat his recovery timetable and return for a playoff game. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year is on track to play against the Rams on Monday.

The first-year Cardinals defensive end suffered a slew of upper-body injuries in Week 7 — a torn labrum, torn bicep, torn rotator cuff and a dislocated shoulder, per the report at the time — and underwent surgery. However, Watt is making the trip and, barring a setback, will suit up against the Rams, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports (video link).

This would mark the second time Watt has completed an early return for a postseason slate. In 2019, Watt returned from a pectoral tear to suit up for the Texans’ two playoff tilts. A Watt return this time would also be a boon for the Cardinals’ defense, which is coming off allowing 38 points to the Seahawks in Week 18.

The Cards were 7-0 with Watt but 4-6 during the future Hall of Famer’s injury hiatus. Watt returned to practice this week and has not encountered any setbacks. While expecting the veteran defensive lineman to play his usual snap rate may be asking too much, a return to work alongside Chandler Jones certainly stands to help the underdog Cardinals in their first playoff game in six years.

Pro Football Focus rated Watt as a top-10 interior defensive lineman this season. The ex-Texans star worked more on the inside than he had in his final seasons in Houston. Watt, 32, registered five tackles for loss and 10 QB hits in his seven Cardinal games. While the Cards being without DeAndre Hopkins will make their upset bid tougher, Hopkins’ fellow Texas-to-Arizona trekker being in uniform could provide a boost.

DeAndre Hopkins Out For Cardinals’ WC Game

While the Cardinals may be welcoming back one of their key veterans for Monday’s Wild Card game against the Rams, they will be missing their No. 1 receiver. DeAndre Hopkins is not ready to come back to game action yet, according to an update from Pro Football Talk’s Charean Williams

Hopkins was placed on IR in December after he suffered a torn MCL. That move, as expected, ended his regular season with an estimated recovery time of six weeks. While there was some hope he would be ready in time for Wild Card Weekend, the later stages of the playoffs were always the more realistic target for his return.

The 29-year-old’s second season in Arizona ended with a less than stellar stat line: 42 catches for 572 yards and eight touchdowns; the receptions and yardage totals are career lows thanks in large part to the fact he only played 10 games in 2021. Regardless of if he is able to come back at some point in the postseason, he is still under contract through 2024, with his cap hits scheduled to jump to $12.5MM next season and a maximum of $27.2MM in 2023.

The other injury news to keep an eye on is in relation to defensive end J.J. Watt. The 32-year old was designated to return from IR last week, opening the door to him returning in time for the playoffs. The news was surprising, given that the surgery he had to address a shoulder injury suffered in October was widely believed to have ended his season. Instead, he may be able to continue his inaugural season in the desert.

The Cardinals will finish the Wild Card round on Monday night when they visit the Rams.

Cardinals Designate J.J. Watt For Return

The Cardinals have designated J.J. Watt for return from the injured reserve list, per a club announcement. With that, Watt can begin practicing with the team as soon as today and rejoin the 53-man roster at any time over the next three weeks. 

Watt may or may not be trotted out in Week 18 against the Seahawks, a game that could decide the NFC West. But, beyond that, it appears that Watt could suit up for the playoffs. That’s phenomenal news, especially since doctors told him that his surgically-repaired shoulder would keep him sidelined all year long.

They tell me I’m done, I have to get surgery and it’s going to take four to six months,” Watt said a few weeks ago (via AZCardinals.com). “I’m sitting there and I can easily pout and easily say, ‘Woe is me, four to six months, I’ll do what I have to do.’ But instead I said, ‘Nah, I’m not going to accept that.’”

Watt’s defied doctors in the past, having returned from a pectoral tear to play in the Texans’ two playoff games in 2019. And, when healthy, he’s still playing at a high level. In a limited sample of 341 defensive snaps this year, Pro Football Focus had him ranked as a top-10 interior defensive lineman.

J.J. Watt Addresses Recovery Timetable

Off to a strong start in his first season with the Cardinals, J.J. Watt went down with a barrage of injuries in late October. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year delved into his timetable Wednesday.

Watt has undergone shoulder surgery, but the Cardinals have pushed back on the notion he is done for the year. Watt is now doing the same, though the timetable he did reveal will make a postseason return a long-odds prospect.

They tell me I’m done, I have to get surgery and it’s going to take four to six months,” Watt said during a YouTube interview with Houston teenager Maanav Gupta (via AZCardinals.com). “I’m sitting there and I can easily pout and easily say, ‘Woe is me, four to six months, I’ll do what I have to do.’ But instead I said, ‘Nah, I’m not going to accept that.'”

The 11th-year defensive lineman said his rehab is going “much better than we could’ve hoped or expected,” but he stopped short of revealing when he could potentially come back. Watt went down during the Cards’ Week 7 game, on Oct. 24. He suffered a torn labrum, bicep, rotator cuff and a separated shoulder. Even beating his timetable by a month would mean a late-January return. Given the way the Cardinals’ past two games have gone, it is obviously no given they are still playing by the divisional or championship rounds.

A quicker-than-expected comeback would not be out of the ordinary for Watt, who returned from a pectoral tear to play in the Texans’ two playoff games in 2019. Although Watt has only played 341 defensive snaps, Pro Football Focus slotted him as a top-10 interior D-lineman this season. Watt is signed through the 2022 season.

Cardinals Activate Rodney Hudson, Place J.J. Watt On IR

SATURDAY: Hudson will indeed come off IR this week. He is back on the Cardinals’ active roster. Arizona moved J.J. Watt to IR to make room. While GM Steve Keim is hopeful the prized free agency acquisition will not miss the rest of the season with his litany of upper-body injuries, the Cards made the expected IR transaction. If Watt is to play again this season, it will not happen for a while.

TUESDAY: The Cardinals will soon have their center back. They designated Rodney Hudson for a return from IR on Tuesday, according to the team. The veteran snapper has spent the past three weeks on IR due to rib and shoulder injuries.

An on-schedule return would have the 11th-year blocker back in the Cardinals’ lineup Sunday, when they face the 49ers in the teams’ rematch. Arizona has 21 days to activate Hudson from IR.

Hudson, 32, came over in a March trade with the Raiders, who dismantled their veteran-laden O-line this offseason. The three-time Pro Bowler ranks 10th among centers in ESPN’s pass block win rate metric, though Pro Football Focus has Hudson as its 25th overall center this season. Hudson has made a difference in the Cards’ run game. Despite Kyler Murray having only rushed for 147 yards, the NFC West leaders rank seventh in rushing.

Having Hudson back would be a nice bonus for a Cardinals team that has seen several notable injuries crop up. In addition to J.J. Watt‘s potential season-ending array of upper-body injuries, Murray is not a lock to suit up Sunday due to the sprained ankle he sustained late in last week’s loss to the Packers. DeAndre Hopkins is also battling a hamstring ailment.

Latest On Cardinals’ J.J. Watt

Cardinals pass rusher J.J. Watt may need season-ending shoulder surgery, but nothing has been decided just yet, according to Cardinals GM Steve Keim (via the team website).

I know surgery is an option, but at the same time I think there are some things that are possibly put in place where we want to play this thing out with a little bit more time and see how he responds,” Keim said. “To me, if there is anybody who can bounce back and can do it, it’s J.J. Watt.”

It’s safe to say that Watt won’t be ready for the Cardinals’ Nov. 7 game against the 49ers, but there’s a chance that he could return for the playoff stretch. Keim also raises a fair point about Watt and his resilience — the veteran managed to finish out the Cards’ Week 7 win over the Texans and beat his recovery timetable in 2019 after suffering a torn pec.

Through seven games this year, Watt has tallied 16 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble, five tackles for loss, and six QB hits. The Cardinals — sans the future Hall of Famer — remain tied with the Packers the NFC lead.

Cardinals DE J.J. Watt Likely To Undergo Season-Ending Surgery

THURSDAY: Hopes Watt could somehow return late in a potential Cardinals playoff run now sound unrealistic. Watt suffered the following injuries in the second half of the Cardinals’ win over the Texans: a torn labrum, torn bicep, torn rotator cuff and a dislocated shoulder, Rapoport tweets. While still not ruling Watt out for a possible Cardinals playoff run, Rapoport adds the 11th-year vet will undergo surgery next week (video link).

Watt somehow finished the Cards’ Week 7 win but will likely be out of the picture for the unbeaten team the rest of the way. Although Watt beat his timetable to recover from a torn pec in 2019, returning for the Texans’ two playoff games that season, this latest run of injury misfortune figures to sideline the future Hall of Famer well into the offseason.

WEDNESDAY: It sounds like J.J. Watt‘s shoulder injury will likely cost him the rest of the season. The Cardinals pass rusher is likely to undergo season-ending shoulder surgery, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter (via Twitter).

Watt injured his shoulder during Sunday’s win over the Texans, but there was hope that the veteran would only miss weeks, not months. Instead, Watt’s upcoming surgery will likely sideline him for the rest of the 2021 campaign. According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport (via Twitter), the recovery time is expected to take at least three months, which would bring us to late in the postseason. That slightly leaves the door open for a Watt return (especially considering his past ability to recover quickly), but no one should be hanging their hat on that scenario. Per Schefter, the surgery has yet to be scheduled.

Watt’s stint with the Texans ended this offseason, and he proceeded to ink a two-year, $28MM deal with the Cardinals. So far, that investment has been worth it for the team, as Watt has played a major role in guiding Arizona to a 7-0 record and a top-five defense. Through seven games, the 32-year-old has collected 16 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble, five tackles for loss, and six QB hits. Despite his injury, he managed to finish Sunday’s win, but he was limited to a season-low 30 snaps on defense.

Injuries have consistently been an issue for the all-time great. Injuries in 2016 and ’17 interrupted Watt’s stratospheric pace, and although the three-time Defensive Player of the Year returned to an All-Pro level in 2018, the former Texans superstar missed a chunk of the 2019 season as well. Since 2016, Watt has missed a total of 32 regular season games, and we’ll be able to pencil in another 10 missed games for 2021.

While there really isn’t a silver lining, at least the Cardinals can rest a bit easier knowing they’ll be getting some reinforcement on their defensive line this week. Arizona will have Chandler Jones on the field after he spent the past two weeks on their reserve/COVID-19 list.