Who will win the JJ Watt sweepstakes and what will be the impact for him, his new team, and the rest of the league?
We all know the more wattage you have, the better. In everything from power at radio stations to the wattage in lightbulbs the more watts you have the more powerful and electric things are. The same can be said for the team that lands free-agent defensive end JJ Watt. The moment it was announced he and the Texans had mutually agreed to part ways, suitors began lining up to pitch their proposals for his services and that line keeps growing. It’s anyone’s guess right now where JJ Watt will go. Before we get into those potential spots, let’s look and see just what they will be getting for their investment.
The Watt Investment
The investors will be getting an experienced, ten-year veteran. He has been one of the league’s best defensive ends, when healthy. We’ll get to that in a minute. Watt is a five-time All-Pro, three-time Defensive Player of the Year, and a two-time sack leader. He currently ranks 31st all-time with 101 sacks, which is third-most among active players. Watt is much more than just a pass rusher. He’s one of the most disruptive defenders we have seen at the position in a long time. Watt does an excellent job of setting and holding containment of the edge, which allows him to be excellent at stopping the run. Watt is also a monster against the pass, as he is one of the league’s best at transitioning from a rusher to getting his hands up to bat down passes (61 career PBUs).
Watt’s career can be divided into two parts. The first five years of his career we saw a disruptive monster dominate the league. In the second half, we saw the same, when he was able to stay on the field. That was the problem as injuries took their toll on him. Watt missed 32 games in the past five seasons, which cost him almost two full seasons and half of another. He did play in all sixteen games this past season, so teams interested in him will have to consider that injury history. Watt isn’t the superstar that we saw early in his career, but he can still play at a high level. One more positive for Watt is his versatility to play inside at defensive tackle as well. We all know he’s chasing a ring at this point of his career and Watt would be a great addition for any team doing the same.
The Watt Investors
Now that we know what the would-be investors are getting, let’s take a look at some of the teams that are throwing their ring in the hat for his services. Watt has made it known that he wants to play for a contender. They must have a quality QB, a great supporting cast, and then, as always, the money. It will be interesting to see how Watt views which boxes these teams check off for him. We all know, including Watt, that he’s not getting a huge payday, but teams that feel he’s the missing piece for a championship run will certainly make very good offers to him. Now let’s look at who’s interested and the possible fit.
The Browns were one of the first to show interest and Watt has reportedly shown interest in the Browns as well. Cleveland checks off a lot, if not all, of the boxes JJ is looking for. To begin, the Browns are a solid contender. They made it to the AFC Divisional Round, where they nearly upset the Kansas City Chiefs. At QB they have Baker Mayfield and a number of offensive weapons that can sustain drives and score points. Next, they have a decent supporting cast, especially Myles Garrett who would be Watt’s bookend mate. Having a superstar opposite him on the other side would take a lot of focus away from Watt. Then of course is the money aspect. Luckily for the Browns, they have over $21 million in cap space to work with and might be a team that can offer the highest contract.
The Steelers don’t check a lot of boxes, but they offer one thing that no other team in the league can. That’s a chance for JJ to play with his brothers TJ Watt and Derek Watt. JJ is on record saying how cool that would be and that he loves that TJ and Derek got that opportunity. The Steelers were a playoff team last year but not much of a contender as they were eliminated in the Wild Card Round by the Browns. At QB they have future HOFer Ben Roethlisberger, who is at the end of his career and not even sure he’ll be their QB in 2021. They have some nice receiving weapons but need running back help. As for the defensive supporting cast, the Steelers have some nice pieces, including DPOY runner-up TJ Watt. The one thing the Steelers don’t have is cap space, as they are $30 million over the cap.
The Bills are an exciting option for Watt. They were a legit Super Bowl contender as they lost in the AFC Championship game to the Kansas City Chiefs. At QB they have one the best young gunslingers in the league, with Josh Allen. They have some nice weapons offensively, including wide receiver Stephon Diggs, who tweeted out to Watt to join him in Buffalo. The Bills have some nice young pieces on defense to support Watt. Buffalo could use Watt to help mentor and lead their defense. The Bills are tight against the cap, so will they be able to offer Watt enough money? They are expected to move on from veteran defensive end Mario Addison, which will save them $6 million in cap space. So they would need to fill that spot and Watt would be a nice upgrade to help with a championship run. The Bills likely are a team that can offer less money but offers a better shot at a ring.
The Tennessee Titans have as big of a need for a pass rusher as any on this list. They took big swings last year with deals to Vic Beasley and Jadeveon Clowney, with no positive results. The Titans are another solid contender and are in their window right now. They lost in the AFC Championship a year ago and bounced in the Wild Card Round this season. They have some issues to fix quickly and Watt can be a huge upgrade and help them get that done. At QB Ryan Tannehill has been terrific since signing with Titans. They also have a major game-controlling weapon in Derrick Henry, someone Watt knows well. The Titans have a decent supporting cast, with the likes of Harold Landry and Jeff Simmons. The Titans don’t have a lot of cap space but will make a solid offer. They also hope that Watt having played for HC Mike Vrabel could swing the arrow in their favor.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers always seem to be in play for big-name free agents and for good reason as they have been a contender year in and year out. They were the favorites for most of the season to make the Super Bowl but they ran into the buzz saw, and eventual Super Bowl 55 champs, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. At QB they have one of the best, in Aaron Rodgers, who has already led them to one Super Bowl win. The Packers have some great weapons on offense but they need upgrades on defense. Zadarius Smith would be Watt’s bookend in Green Bay and was a great free-agent addition himself. The Packers have right around $11 million in cap space and will likely create a little more after some releases. The Packers are another team that may not offer the most money but is one the better teams that give Watt a chance to win a ring and play in his home state.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
While the Buccaneers are the reigning NFL Champs, they will have a lot of holes to fill this off-season. They instantly became serious contenders, the moment they signed the G.O.A.T Tom Brady to be their QB. They have a ton of offensive weapons to possibly repeat as champs. On defense, they have a lot of work to do as they have a number of free agents to be this off-season. Players such as Shaquille Barrett, Lavonte David, Ndamukong Suh, among others need to be re-signed or replaced. Watt would be a great option for them to fill their needs. The Buccaneers have roughly $10 million in cap space at the moment to work with. Even if the Bucs offer is low, I believe it would be hard for Watt to pass on playing with Brady and maybe the best shot to win a ring.
There are and will be more teams that will check the temp on Watt and see what it would take to sign him. As for now, these are some of the names that have been thrown around the most and the most likely to sign him.