The mystery of where JJ Watt will sign as an NFL free agency has been solved. Watt broke the news of his decision to sign with the Cardinals, much to the disappointment of several teams who were pursuing the services of the former defensive end of the future Hall of Fame of the Texans.
Watt, who turns 32 on March 22, will play outside of Houston for the first time in his professional career. Think of Arizona as a mild surprise destination based on early speculation.
Here’s why the Cardinals ended up being the best fit for Watt after two weeks of his free market presence:
JJ Watt contract details
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Watt got a two-year Cardinals contract worth $ 31 million. The bulk of that figure was $ 23 million guaranteed. Watt was looking for between $ 15 million and $ 16 million per year, and that average of $ 15.5 million per season is in the middle.
In his previous six-year contract with the Texans, Watt averaged $ 16.67 million over six years with $ 51.876 million of the total value of the $ 100 million contract guaranteed. As an older player, he got 74% of his new guaranteed team deal.
The Cardinals have shown him that he will always be an elite defenseman and that he will remain a healthy producer throughout the 2022 season. Arizona is eyeing a cap of around $ 11 million. The big guarantee allows the Cardinals to limit the cap reached on Watt to 21 and push as many as possible to next year.
Arizona is a great place for former Texas stars
Remember how Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins “recruited” Watt on social media? It turns out that it could have been a real ploy.
Hopkins immediately adapted to the Cardinals and picked up his big, captivating production where he left off in Houston. There’s a culture of an exciting young team, led by quarterback Kyler Murray, looking for the right mix of veterans beyond Hopkins to help lead the team into the future.
Defensively, the Cardinals will part ways with longtime star cornerback Patrick Peterson in free agency. While losing their know-how at the back, they needed a boost of experience and execution in the top seven. Watt can be on that side of the ball what Hopkins was on offense.
Why JJ Watt was a better fit for Cardinals than Browns, Bills, Packers, Steelers, etc.
The Browns and Bills were never schematic adjustments as 4-3 base teams under Joe Woods and Leslie Frazier, respectively. The Packers are still operating a 3-4 with former Rams assistant Joe Barry replacing Mike Pettine as coordinator, but at more than $ 11 million projected above the cap, they weren’t in a position to s’ adjust to afford Watt.
The Steelers were name players purely because of the employment of Watt’s brothers TJ and Derek, who were left out once JJ didn’t really want to play with them. JJ Watt’s prize wasn’t that great for Pittsburgh, with $ 19 million above the cap. Of the 2020 non-playoff teams, Watt was the most tied in the Chargers 3-4 under Brandon Staley and Renaldo Hill, but it never gained momentum.
The Cardinals, who narrowly missed the NFC playoffs at 8-8 last season, had the combination of a good 3-4 pattern under Vance Joseph and a key hole to attract and splurge on Watt. Watt, who had five sacks last season and remained dominant against the run in the face of poor overall Houston defense, was more of a need than a luxury signing for Arizona.
Cardinals’ starting ends Zach Allen and Jordan Phillips struggled to hold onto the lead last season. Their 32-year-old nose tackle Corey Peters is a free agent. They were No. 21 against the race and Watt has just had a tough year. The Cardinals had 48 sacks, but most came from the second tier with Allen, Phillips and Peters combining for just 6.
Don’t be fooled by Watt having a modest bag total compared to the monster years he had in his early days. He’s been active and disruptive overall against the pass and can set a big tone for the Cardinals.
Watt’s signing confirms the Cardinals won’t try to afford Peterson. Now they need to focus on re-signing to get out of linebacker Haason Reddick, who had a maximum of 12.5 sacks in 2020.
The Cardinals have proven under general manager Steve Keim that they will be aggressive in acquiring potential veterans. Five years ago, they hit the jackpot by acquiring top hunter Chandler Jones from the Patriots. They were smart to recognize that Watt was another good investment in cleaning up a great lingering weakness. More importantly, he can help them overcome the bump and advance to the playoffs.