On Jan. 5, two days after the Houston Texans completed a disappointing 4-12 season, SportsLine released odds on whether three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year JJ Watt would return to the team for the 2021 season. No was a -180 moneyline betting favorite because of Watt's age (32 in March), big salary ($17.5 million) and trouble staying healthy – not to mention the Texans are clearly in rebuild mode and Watt wants to win a Super Bowl before he retires. On Friday, Houston officially released Watt after he requested it, and SportsLine offers NFL odds on his next team.
Watt certainly is the greatest player in Texans history and was a unanimous selection for the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 2010s. He won those three Defensive Player of the Year Awards (tied for most in NFL history with Lawrence Taylor and Aaron Donald), was named first-team All-Pro five times, a Pro Bowler five times, had 101 sacks, 61 passes defensed (which is absurd for a defensive lineman), 494 tackles, 25 forced fumbles and even three receiving touchdowns.
In 2012, he was in the running for NFL MVP. Watt also was a tremendous influence in the community in raising many millions of dollars after Hurricane Harvey and was named the 2017 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award winner.
The Texans -- who stole Watt with the No. 11 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft; one spot after Jacksonville selected QB Blaine Gabbert (LOL) -- won just three playoff games in Watt's career and never advanced past the divisional round. No question that Watt is going to pick a team he thinks can win immediately. Because Watt was released, he doesn't have to wait until the new league year begins on March 17 to sign with a club.
While Watt may not be a superstar any longer, he was still very effective in 2020. He played all 16 games for only the second time since 2015 and finished with five sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception he returned for a touchdown. Watt ranked 15th out of 119 qualified pass rushers in Pass Rush Win Rate. During the season, Watt made it clear he was not interested in playing for a team going through a "rebuild."
No question the two favorites to sign Watt are the Packers and Steelers. Watt is from Wisconsin and his parents still live there. Years ago, Green Bay signed another future Hall of Fame defensive lineman at age 31 – his name was Reggie White. That worked out pretty well. The Pack are currently +900 second favorites at William Hill Sportsbook to win Super Bowl 56 behind Kansas City (+550). Think signing Watt would make Aaron Rodgers happy?
Because family is so important to Watt, Pittsburgh is another logical choice as his brother TJ is a star linebacker there (finished second in 2020 NFL Defensive Player of the Year voting behind Donald) and other brother Derek a fullback on the team – they both also played at Wisconsin. The Steelers are really tight up against the cap, so Watt may have to take a big discount.
Chicago isn't far from Green Bay and Watt's wife Kealia plays for the Chicago Red Stars of the National Women's Soccer League. However, the Bears aren't really Super Bowl contenders.
San Francisco, Tennessee and Baltimore all should contend next season. Watt's former teammate DeMeco Ryans is the new defensive coordinator for the Niners; Watt's former DC in Houston was Mike Vrabel, the head coach of the Titans; and Watt's former defensive coordinator and position coach in Houston was Anthony Weaver, who is the new defensive line coach with the Ravens.
Indianapolis has a ton of cap space and the need for an addition pass-rusher. Ditto New England. Watt would be a folk hero in Cleveland if he helped lead the Browns to their first Super Bowl title – a defensive end pairing of Watt and Myles Garrett would be scary.
One can't rule out Watt joining forces with Tom Brady and the Super Bowl champion Bucs. They have a few key free agents on defense, including tackle Ndamukong Suh and pass-rushing linebacker Shaquil Barrett.
It's not clear if Watt's release will affect the Deshaun Watson situation, but it surely can't make Watson more likely to want to play again for Houston as he is good friends with Watt.
Via SportsLine oddsmakers: Favorites to sign JJ Watt
- Packers +150
- Steelers +200
- Bucs +400
- Browns +500
- Titans +700
- 49ers +800
- Patriots +900
- Colts +1000
- Ravens +1200
- Bears +1500
- Cowboys +1800
- Raiders +2000
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