J.J. Watt, one of the greatest pass rushers in NFL history, asked for his released from Houston after a 10-year career with the Texans, and it was granted by the team on Friday morning. Instead of trading Watt and getting compensation, the team complied with his wishes so that he could become a free agent and choose his next destination immediately.
Will that place be Tampa Bay? Watt hasn’t had much luck in the playoffs despite six appearances over the last decade, as the Texans have never advanced to the AFC Championship Game.
Watt had grown frustrated by the organization’s losing ways, as the Texans finished 4-12 in 2020 and had a playoff record of 4-6 during his time in Houston. The Texans have a new head coach in David Culley and a new general manager in Nick Casero this year, and star quarterback Deshaun Watson has asked to be traded.
With the Bucs fresh off winning Super Bowl LV, Watt might want a chance to play with legendary quarterback Tom Brady and in Todd Bowles’ 3-4 defense where he would be a good fit schematically. The 6-foot-5, 288-pound Watt has primarily played left defensive end in Romeo Crennell’s 3-4 system, and could play there in Bowles’ defense or as an outside linebacker.
Watt was entering the final year of his contract where he was scheduled to make $17.5 million. Finding a trading partner next month with that kind of cap space for 32-year old defensive end would have proved impossible in a year in which the salary cap is expected to fall to $181 million from $198 million a year ago.
The Bucs are expected to have just over $28 million in salary cap room in 2021 and have several of their own free agents to re-sign, including outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett, inside linebacker Lavonte David, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, wide receiver Chris Godwin, tight end Rob Gronkowski and kicker Ryan Succop among others. Watt may not be high on the Bucs’ wish list because of his age (32) and his extensive injury history, and what it would cost to sign him. Signing Watt may come at the expense of Tampa bay not being able to bring back another player, such as Barrett.
In his prime, Watt was a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year (2012, 2014, 2015), a five-time first-team All-Pro (2012-15, 2018), a three-time second-team All-Pro (2014-15, 2018), a five-time Pro Bowler (2012-15, 2018), and the Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2017. Watt joined elite company this year as he topped 100 career sacks with 101 in his 10-year career.
Watt’s last Pro Bowl appearance came in 2018 when he recorded 16 sacks in 16 games. He played in just eight games over two seasons prior to that due to injuries, and missed eight more games to injuries yet again the following year in 2019.
Watt has totaled 531 tackles, 101 sacks, 61 pass break-ups, 25 forced fumbles, 16 fumble recoveries, four defensive touchdowns and two interceptions in a decade in Houston. While he is no longer the elite pass rusher that he was when he led the NFL in sacks with 20.5 and 17.5 in 2012 and 2015, respectively, Watt is still a very good defensive player, earning an 85.5 overall grade from Pro Football Focus in 2020 with an 81 run defense grade and a 76.7 pass rush grade.
He totaled 52 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 17 QB hits, seven pass breakups, five sacks, two forced fumbles, an interception and a touchdown last year in his final season in Houston. Yet he recorded just one sack in his final eight games with Houston, which could be an obvious sign of decline for the aging superstar.
Watt was the Texans’ first-round pick in 2011 where he was the 11th overall selection.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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