J.J. Watt Restructures His Contract, Opens Up $8 Million in Cap Space

It goes without saying that this has been the Texans' most active offseason in free agency since the lockout-shortened offseason of 2011, when they signed Johnathan Joseph and Danieal Manning within 24 hours of each other.

They've re-signed cornerback Kareem Jackson, tackle Derek Newton and quarterback Ryan Mallett. They've brought in newly signed free agents in safety Rahim Moore, wide receiver Cecil Shorts and nose tackle Vince Wilfork.

All of this was done courtesy of a very un-Texan-like $30 million in cap space, opened up in large part through the releases of veterans Andre Johnson and Chris Myers. Heading into this morning, the Texans had whittled that down to about $3 million in cap space.

However, if you're looking for the telltale sign that the Texans are not done shopping yet, it came this morning.

According to Field Yates of ESPN.com, J.J. Watt has agreed to what, from a practical standpoint, amounts to a semantic restructure of a $10 million bonus he has coming due soon:

The effect of the semantic change from "roster bonus" to "signing bonus" means that the Texans can spread the cap hit from that $10 million over the next five years, as opposed to taking it all in 2015. So in effect, the Texans have taken $10 million cap hit and converted it from a $10 million hit in 2015 to a $2 million hit each of the next five seasons. The net effect on J.J. Watt from an income standpoint is effectively nothing. He still gets a total income (salary and bonus) of $19,969,000 in 2015 from the Texans.

Here are the revised numbers over the life of Watt's contract, courtesy of Spotrac:

YEAR BASE CAP HIT DEAD MONEY 2015 $9,969,000 $13,969,000 ($27,969,000) 2016 $10,500,000 $14,500,000 ($14,000,000) 2017 $10,500,000 $14,500,000 ($14,000,000) 2018 $11,000,000 $15,000,000 ($6,000,000) 2019 $13,000,000 $15,000,000 ($2,000,000) 2020 $15,500,000 $15,500,000 2021 $17,500,000 $17,500,000

So what does this all mean?

Well, it would seem to mean that the Texans have a few more moves in mind this offseason, because if this were a season that privately they viewed as a rebuild (they would never say that publicly), then swallowing as much of Watt's income in 2015 would be the prudent thing in order to keep flexibility at a maximum in the coming seasons.

When you factor in their needing a few million in cap space in order to sign their upcoming rookie class, this would seem to leave enough room for two or three more semi-bargain tier free agents. Among the players who a) fill a need for the Texans and b) would seem to be in this price range are guys like run-stopping linebacker Brandon Spikes or wide receiver Michael Crabtree.

One other thing to consider is the possibility of the Texans extending one or more of their current players before he gets to free agency, the most likely of whom being right guard Brandon Brooks.

Whatever the case, the Watt restructure is the move of a team that thinks it can win now, and whether the Texans are correct or not, you have to at least admire the mindset.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.

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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