J.J. Watt broke the news of his mutual parting with the Houston Texans on Friday. The 11th-overall pick in the 2011 draft, Watt leaves Houston as a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, five-time All-Pro and member of the NFL’s 2010s All-Decade Team. Watt’s play helped the Texans — a franchise that had no postseason appearances before his arrival — win six division titles over the past decade.
While his sack numbers were down in 2020, Watt was a significant presence in pass defense. His seven pass breakups were his highest total since 2014. He also recorded the second pick-six of his career during Houston’s Thanksgiving Day win over the Lions. Watt also forced two fumbles along with his five sacks and 14 tackles for loss. He managed to play in each of the Texans’ 16 games after missing half of the 2019 season with a torn pectoral.
His best days may be behind him, but the soon-to-be 32-year-old is still a formidable player who should have a significant amount of suitors on the open market. CBS Sportsline has already released its odds on where Watt will play in 2021, with nine of the top-12 projected teams coming off playoff seasons. Watt’s leadership and desire to win that elusive Super Bowl will certainly help his market value. Speaking of that, let’s take a look at five teams that could be good fits for Watt during the next chapter of his career.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers should be considered the front-runner to land Watt this offseason. Both of Watt’s younger brothers — outside linebacker T.J. Watt and fullback Derek Watt — are already on the Steelers. Last season, the Watts became the second trio of brothers to play in the same NFL game. Each brother spoke about the significance of that game, which led to some fan speculation about the possibility of J.J. joining his brothers in Pittsburgh in the not-too-distant future.
Family situation aside, it would make tangible sense for the Steelers to sign Watt, especially if pass rusher Bud Dupree departs in free agency. Watt would give the Steelers another edge rusher to pair with T.J, who led the NFL with 15 sacks last season. It would also add depth to a defensive line that may be losing Tyson Alualu this offseason. Watt’s leadership would also be welcomed inside the Steelers’ facility, especially with the news of longtime captain Maurkice Pouncey’s retirement. The Steelers don’t have a ton of cap space, but the retirements of Pouncey and tight end Vance McDonald have left some wiggle room if Pittsburgh wanted to make this happen.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Watt wants a ring, so what better team to go to than the one that just won the Super Bowl? In Tampa, Watt would join a talented Buccaneers defense that includes linebackers Devin White, Lavonte David and Shaquil Barrett, a unit that helped Tampa Bay hold the Chiefs to nine points in Super Bowl LV. The addition of Watt would also make 34-year-old defensive end Ndamukong Suh expendable. Watt would likely be flanked on the Buccaneers’ defensive line with 2020 Pro Bowler Jason Pierre-Paul, fellow defensive end William Gholston, and defensive tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches.
While this move would make sense on both sides, the Buccaneers’ first offseason priority is signing their free agents before making a splash in free agency. That being said, the opportunity to land a future first-ballot Hall of Famer may be too inciting for Bruce Arians and general manager Jason Licht to pass up.
3. Dallas Cowboys
Watt spoke about his love for Texas during Friday’s goodbye video to Houston. With that being said, it probably isn’t going out on a limb to assume that Watt wouldn’t mind continuing his career in the Lone Star State. The Cowboys could certainly use some help as far as pass rushing in concerned; Dallas’ 31 sacks in 2020 were tied for 20th in the NFL. The fact that Jerry Jones would love to make a Texas-sized free agent splash only adds to this scenario coming to fruition. The main issue is money, as the Cowboys still have to address Dak Prescott’s contract situation.
4. Green Bay Packers
A Wisconsin native, Watt probably wouldn’t mind coming home for the next phase of his career. Making Green Bay an even more attractive option is the fact that the Packers have been in the past two NFC Championship Games. The Packers did finish in the top 10 in the NFL in sacks in 2020, but the majority of that damage was done by their linebackers, specifically Za’Darius Smith. More push on the defensive line may have made the difference against Tom Brady in the NFC title game. That could be what finally puts the Packers one the top in 2021.
Green Bay does not currently have a lot of projected cap space, but the Packers could easily free up some money if they cut players like Preston Smith, Devin Funchess, Christian Kirksey and Rick Wagner, just to name a few. The Packers will have even more money to work with if Aaron Jones, Corey Linsley, Jamaal Williams and Kevin King decide to sign with new teams in free agency.
5. Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore edges out New England for the final spot for a few reasons. One, it would give Watt the chance to face his brothers at least twice per year. More importantly, the Ravens are coming off a third-consecutive playoff season, while the Patriots are somewhat in limbo entering Year 2 of the post-Tom Brady era. Like Bill Belichick, John Harbaugh has a history of success signing veteran players.
In Baltimore, Watt would help a Ravens’ pass rush that finished outside of the top 10 in the league in sacks in 2020. Watt would also create a pretty formidable defensive line that would include Brandon Williams, Calais Campbell and possibly pending free agent Yannick Ngakoue.