If you're a diehard Houston Texan fan (and/or a female in the Greater Houston area), you can recite the list by heart. It's the long scroll of injuries suffered by J.J. Watt over the last four years, really since the second half of the 2015 season. For the first four years of his career, Watt was Superman, with just the occasional nick and cut here and there.
Then came the second half of 2015, in which he broke his hand, herniated a disc, and wound up being helped off the field in the playoff game because of a torn core muscle. Then the floodgates opened — a second back surgery in 2016 ending his season after three weeks, a tibial plateau fracture ending his 2017 season five games in, and now a torn pectoral at the halfway point of 2019.
If you go to the website "Sports Injury Predictor," it says that J.J. Watt had a 53 percent chance of injury heading into this season, so maybe we should have expected this, but dammit, it's jarring to look at the human silhouette graphic with all of the dots on the body parts that Watt has hurt. His SIP graphic looks like he's the dude on the game board for "Operation: The Wacky Doctor's Game." Or Will Fuller.
Well, the show must go on, and now the Texans move on with the 2019 season. Here are four thoughts I have on the aftermath of the latest Watt season-ending injury:
Will there be any messing around with Watt's contractual future?
For reference purposes, here is Watt's contractual overview for the remainder of his deal:
So Watt is into the territory of his deal, the last few non-guaranteed years, where for most players, the only leverage for getting an extension or some guaranteed money was going to be performance on the field (although admittedly, merely BEING J.J. WATT might be enough for him to get a new deal). I was firmly of the belief that if Watt had another season in 2019 like he did in 2018 (first team All Pro) that the Texans would rip up his deal and do a new contract to lock up the final few years of his Hall of Fame career. Now, everything is up in the air, including the answer to "Who will the general manager of the Texans be in 2020?" If Nick Caserio comes in touting the Patriot Way, is it possible the Texans could try to restructure Watt to a more team-friendly deal? Now, THAT would be something.
How visible will Watt be?
I remember back in 2016, when Watt suffered the second back injury, he was off the grid, to the point where any discussion of Watt felt like we were discussing some kind of mythical creature. When he finally showed up on the sidelines to a game, I want to say it was the Week 16 game against the Bengals, it was jarring to see him, mostly because he looked like he'd dropped about 50 pounds. He was a beanpole! We will see how much he is around the team this time. I would imagine it's a little more fun being around a Deshaun Watson-quarterbacked team than one skippered by Brock Osweiler. The bigger question — what happens with his charity softball game?!? I love that event, and he had to cancel it the last couple times he was injured. Hopefully, a torn pectoral muscle isn't enough to cancel it again. Think of the kids, J.J.!
How do we compare the nature of this season-ending injury with the previous three?
A lot has been made of the fact that Watt is now suffering his first season ending injury after the age of 30, and speculation has been bubbling on whether or not he would "pull an Andrew Luck" and retire with some gas still left in the tank. I will go on the record staunchly predicting Watt will be back next season (and several seasons after that). I think football is more woven into Watt's DNA than it was with Luck, and I think there is a sick side of J.J. Watt that relishes the grind of preparing for a season, and maybe even relishes the challenge of rehabbing an injury. (To be clear, I am not saying he LIKES being injured, I'm saying he has an uncanny ability to convert this adversity into fuel.) As for the severity of this injury, my hunch is this doesn't even register in the same league as the back and leg injuries when it comes to just how scary and sobering the actual injury is relative to Watt's longevity. This seems more like a fluky thing that virtually everyone returns from at full strength. Put differently, I am far more optimistic about the return of "peak level J.J." with this injury than I was either of the previous two.
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Where do the Texans get a pass rush?
Bill O'Brien addressed this in his press conference on Monday:
“Sure. I think there's a lot of things you can do. Last year was last year, but I think the versatility of D.J. Reader helps. I think there's a lot of things you can do, though. You've got guys like (Barkevious) Mingo, and (Jacob) Martin, Charles Omenihu, that are versatile players. Like I said last night, no one person is going to take the spot of a Hall of Fame player, but at the end of the day, these things happen and we've got to move forward and do what we have to do to win games. That's what we're going to do. We're going to do the best we can to put the players in the right position based on what their skillsets are and go try to win games.”
The pressure is most definitely on defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel to scheme the Texans into some semblance of a pass rush. My recommendation? Lots of prayer.