Houston Texans star defensive end J.J. Watt is unlike any other player across the NFL. His laundry list of accolades, amassed over a decade in Houston, don’t just cement him as the best player in the history of the organization, but as one of the league’s premier defensive linemen. Watt, however, is still like any other player. He wants to win—and win now.
Watt is keenly aware of the little time he has left in the league. He’ll be 32 in March, and, after battling multiple injuries since 2015—including sitting out much of the 2016, 2017, and 2019 seasons—his patience is running thin. It couldn’t have been more evident this past season when Watt, on multiple occasions, expressed his frustrations with the Texans’ regression.
The former double-digit winning team traded away All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins for an aging running back, David Johnson, who despite recording just over 1,000 yards from scrimmage, didn’t do much for the offense—or quarterback Deshaun Watson, who is rumored to want out of Houston as well. The Texans went from back-to-back postseason appearances to missing the playoffs altogether while finishing at the bottom of the AFC South for the first time since 2017; it was nearly right in the middle of former head coach and general manager Bill O’Brien’s tenure. With vacancies at both positions (the GM role has since been filled) and an unhappy, perennial quarterback, Watt is (rightfully) seeking stability.
“I'm not looking to rebuild,” Watt told ESPN’s Sarah Barshop in early November. “I'm looking to go after a championship, and that's what I want to do.”
Watt didn’t necessarily foreshadow Houston’s regrettable season, but in May, prior to the complete mess Houston found itself in, he had two priorities: winning and staying healthy. The former eluded him. It has been widely believed that a trade following the 2020 season was imminent, with an unnamed source telling CBS Sports, “It's a wrap.”
Watt, whose contract is up after the 2021 season, would save Houston $17.5 million against the salary cap, which is facing a monumental decrease due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Watt has spent his entire career with the Texans after being selected as the 11th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. Since then, Watt has become synonymous with the Houston organization, but tensions mounted under O’Brien; it leaves the Texans in a precarious position. They have one of the most electrifying quarterbacks in the NFL with virtually no offensive weapons, aside from Brandin Cooks, and—if the trade rumors around Watson prove to be true—will be in full-on rebuild mode.
Perhaps trading Watt ahead of the 2021 season is in the best interest for all parties. Houston has very little high-end draft capital and one of the league’s worst cap sheets; according to Spotrac, the Texans are $-20.3 against the cap next season. Watt could land with a better contender—the Seattle Seahawks, once again, have a surging defense; the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ window with quarterback Tom Brady is closing; the Steelers are just collecting Watts at this point; and Watt could even pair with Cleveland Browns’ defensive end Myles Garrett and help sustain their recent success—and be put in a better position to win now.
While Watt admitted Houston “wasted” one of Watson’s years, the team has also done the same to Watt when he’s healthy. They haven’t made it past the divisional round in the six seasons the Texans made the playoffs with Watt winning Defensive Player of the Year during two postseason runs and again in 2014.
Watt has long been a leader in Houston’s locker room, and his presence will be sorely missed; but Watt, for the few seasons he has left, deserves to be on a team that doesn’t do criminal disservices to its best players.