Sean Pendergast

Four Thoughts on J.J. Watt's Departure from the Houston Texans

The J.J. Watt Era in Houston ended on Friday morning with his release.
The J.J. Watt Era in Houston ended on Friday morning with his release. Photo by Eric Sauseda
For as miserable as 2020 was for almost everybody, certainly on a global level amidst the pandemic, but here in Houston on a sporting level, 2021 is really testing us so far here, locally. James Harden and George Springer are gone, and who know what the hell is happening with Deshaun Watson. However, as icons go, none of those folks are J.J. Watt.

We all knew that the day was coming, sooner rather than later, where Watt what's next chapter would be jumpstarted with either a trade or outright release, and it happened on Friday morning. The suddenness of the announcement was a little unexpected, but the outcome was not. Watt took to Twitter to give us the news, we all knew was coming, but nevertheless were dreading:


For their part, CEO Cal McNair and co-founder Janice McNair put out nice statements on Watt's impact on the franchise and the city of Houston:


Finally, the Texans' digital team put out a nice goodbye video for the future Hall of Famers:


Ok, so let's dig into this and try and provide some perspective and prognostication on what Watt's next chapter hold. Here we go....

Watt's three pronged legacy
To me, when I am someday asked about J.J. Watt by my grandkids, I will think of three things. First, and most obvious, the supreme level of on-field performance. At his peak, I've never watched a more unique, athletic big man disrupt a pocket and an opposing backfield. He became the second player to win three Defensive Player of the Year awards, winning the honor in 2012, 2014, and 2015. (Since then, Aaron Donald has become the third. Lawrence Taylor was the first.)

Second, Watt's subsequent seasons, specifically 2016 through 2019, were marked by injuries, some of them gruesome and devastating. He came back from two back surgeries in 2016 to full health in 2017. He came back from a  traumatic broken leg in 2017 to full health and All pro status again in 2018. He came back from a wrecked pectoral muscle in 2019 to return in time for the playoffs that season. His resiliency was incredible.

Finally, Watt's philanthropy and generosity might be his greatest trait. His foundation has provided afterschool activity supplies for hundreds of schools, and his Hurricane Harvey recovery fund raising — $41 million via social media — was legendary.


The Texans, for once this offseason, did the right thing
It was very evident over the course of the second half of the 2020 season that Watt would be moving on after this past year, especially when he said he didn't want to be part of a rebuild. The only question was "Would the Texans try to trade him for draft capital, or release him outright and make him a free agent?" Trading Watt would give him less control over where he goes. Releasing him outright, especially with several weeks before free agency begins, would give him a chance to meticulously choose where he plays next. The right thing for the Texans to do, in terms in terms of team building, would be to trade him for whatever they can get. The right thing to do, as far as "doing right by Watt," was to release him. Ultimately, and somewhat ironically, in an offseason where the Texans have done very little right, the one right thing they've done actually runs CONTRARY to building a better team in 2021.

Watt is about to experience something for the very first time
Consider Watt's background, going back to high school. He was a lightly recruited, 2-star tight end out of Pewaukee High School in Wisconsin. He wound up going to Central Michigan for a year, before transferring as a walk-on to Wisconsin. After sitting out a season, he quickly because a fixture and then, a star. He was drafted 11th overall by the Texans, and signed a contract extension after three seasons.

My point with all of this is that Watt was never the level of high school player to warrant a massive courtship campaign from big-time suitors, and as a pro, he's been TOO GOOD to ever hit free agency. Until now. So for the first time in his career, Watt takes on sort of a "belle of the ball" role, where I would imagine there will be a lot of teams battling for his services. Reports on Friday indicated that a dozen teams reached out to his representation after he dropped that Twitter video announcing his departure from Houston.

Where does this story go next?
This is the big question, and we will talk more about this as the weeks go one. For what it's worth, here are the odds on where Watt plays next season:

Green Bay Packers 3/2
Pittsburgh Steelers 2/1
Dallas Cowboys 4/1
Los Angeles Rams 5/1
Las Vegas Raiders 8/1
Chicago Bears 10/1
Denver Broncos 10/1
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 12/1
Baltimore Ravens 12/1
Cleveland Browns 12/1
Buffalo Bills 12/1
New England Patriots 15/1
Miami Dolphins 15/1
Minnesota Vikings 15/1
Los Angeles Chargers 20/1
San Francisco 49ers 20/1
New York Giants 20/1
Tennessee Titans 20/1
Kansas City Chiefs 25/1
My quick hit thoughts on these odds — I think the right team is favored. Green Bay makes the most sense, both from a practical standpoint and a "storybook ending" standpoint. Dallas at 4/1 is horrific value, no way he ends up a Cowboy. I actually have thought all along the Rams could be a dark horse, but at 5/1, they're more viewed as a favorite than than an intriguing underdog. The best values on the board are Baltimore at 12/1 (great culture, good team, and Anthony Weaver is the defensive line coach there, Watt loves Weaver, and going against his brothers twice a year would be fun) and Kansas City at 25/1 (seems like a big payout for Watt choosing the Super Bowl favorite for 2021).

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.
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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast