It isn’t every offseason that one of greatest defensive player of all time is on the trade block. After an extremely messy 4-12 season the Texans are in a position where they are going to have to trade J.J. Watt. He has been the face of the Houston Texans franchise for a decade.
Watt has had a Hall of Fame career up to this point. He is an eight time All-Pro, five time Pro Bowler, two time league sack leader, a member of the 100 sack club, a member of the NFL 2010’s All-Decade Team, and a Walter Payton Man of the Year.
For the second time in five seasons Watt played a full 16 game season. This past season was Watts second worst season statistically in his career. He only had five sacks, two forced fumbles, and an interception. Despite his regression he may be able to be an impact player on a better team. Watt also is a fantastic locker room presence and leader who could push team to the next level.
Watt is on the last year of his deal and will make $17.5 million next season. Here are the teams who could potentially land J.J. Watt this offseason.
Rebuild a once great defense
Team: New England Patriots
Compensation: 2021 Second Round Pick (46th Overall), 2021 Sixth Round Pick via Dallas Cowboys (171st Overall)
After their first season without Tom Brady the New England Patriots are in a prime position to retool their roster to become playoff contenders again in the AFC. After quarterback and offensive weapons the next biggest need is a pass rusher. Since the Patriots have $58.7 Million in cap space they have the flexibility to trade for a player like Watt.
Bill Belichick and the Patriots have always been the team to take in an older veteran who was once elite at their position closer to the end of his career.It is clear that if the Patriots want to contend in the near future they will have to add veterans to strengthen this roster because Belichick has struggled to draft in recent years.
Watt could be the face of the next few seasons in New England and help this defense return to the way they played just a season ago. Last season New England was by far the best defense in the league. Belichick could have a lot of fun scheming Watt all over the Patriots defense lining him up all over giving him different opportunities to get after the quarterback.
Retooling an elite Front Seven
Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Compensation: 2021 Second Round Pick (63rd or 64th Overall), 2022 Fourth Round Pick
Whether the Tampa Bay Buccaneers win the Super Bowl or not, they should not settle not their current roster next season. The team has just over $28.6 Million in salary cap space and are in danger of losing multiple starters on their elite front seven. Shaquil Barrett, Lavonte David, Ndamukong Suh, and Steve McLendon are all free agents after this season ends. It is unlikely that the Buccaneers will be able to retain all of them so they might have to get creative in how they retool the strength of their football team.
Watt would be able to fill Suh’s void on the defensive line and could minimize the loss of Barrett in the pass rushing department. The only complaint with a move like this is the amount of Tampa Bay’s remaining salary cap Watt will take up. However there are two solutions to this problem.
Tampa Bay has multiple players on large contracts who can get cut with no dead money left on the teams cap like Donovan Smith, O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate, and William Gholston. By cutting Smith, Gholston, and one of their tight ends their cap space jumps up to $50 Million.
There is also the possibility of negotiating with Watt and seeing if he would be willing to convert a portion of his salary to a signing bonus so it doesn’t count so much against the cap. The Buccaneers can also do that in the form of a two year contract extension they can offer Watt. It is likely that Watt wouldn’t mind sacrificing some salary in order to join a contender like Tampa Bay.
Pairing with a great defensive coach
Team: New York Jets
Compensation: 2021 Third Round Pick (66th Overall), 2021 Third Round Pick via Seattle Seahawks (87th Overall), and 2022 Fourth Round Pick
The New York Jets are in the middle of a rebuild despite only winning two games this past season. But general manager Joe Douglas and head coach Robert Saleh may want to add a couple veterans to help accelerate their rebuild. a veteran defensive lineman like Watt could be a player the Jets explore adding to their young team.
New York has over $65.5 Million in salary cap space and some extra draft picks that they can throw at a veteran player like Watt. The Jets have the most assets out of every team in the league to throw at expensive players. After a rough season the Jets need to add more than a few young players from the draft. They are lacking a leader in the locker room among the players. Despite the Jets being worse than the Texans last season, they appear to be in a better place than the Texans long term which is what Watt could be looking for.
Under Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich it is assumed that the Jets will run a 4-3 defensive for the first time in over ten years. The Jets are lacking a true caliber starting 4-3 defensive end on their roster, especially if Jordan Jenkins leaves in free agency. Watt could start at defensive end and push the Jets defensive line into great territory. They already have former third overall pick Quinnen Williams, Folorunso Fatukasi, and John Franklin-Myers who will rotated between the two interior defensive line positions. If the Jets add Watt and another pass rusher they could have a poor mans version of the 49ers defensive line which was strength of Saleh’s former team.
Adding the finishing touches of a great defense
Team: Miami Dolphins
Compensation: 2021 Second Round Pick (36th Overall), 2021 Sixth Round Pick (183rd Overall)
The most surprising team from this past season far and away was the Miami Dolphins. After going 5-11 the year before Miami just fell short of the playoffs after going 10-6. The Dolphins offense played a lot better, but their defense is what carried them as they had one of the best units in the entire league this past year.
Despite going 10-6 the Dolphins have $23.7 Million in salary cap space and two picks in both the first and second rounds in this years draft. Since the team has no major free agents or major needs on their roster they could look into trading for an edge rusher like Watt who could push this defense and team to the next level.
This past season the Dolphins leader in sacks was Emmanuel Ogbah with nine. Only two seasons ago Watt had 16 sacks and was a Pro Bowler. If the Dolphins added Watt to their defense he could play at the level he did in 2018 rather than what he did this past season. The Dolphins have an elite secondary that could give Watt more than enough time to get to the quarterback. Also teams would have to consider double teaming Watt giving players like Ogbah, Kyle Van Noy, Andrew Van Ginkel, Shaq Lawson, and Christian Wilkins one on ones and make it easier for them to get to the quarterback.
The Texans organization may not want to trade with the Dolphins because they own both of their first and second round picks. But a deal sending Watt to Miami could work well for both teams if the Texans receive enough compensation.
Pairing up two of the best defensive lineman of the last decade
Team: Los Angeles Chargers
Compensation: 2021 Second Round Pick (47th Overall), 2021 Fifth Round Pick (143)
The Los Angeles Chargers are the best bad team in the league. What does that mean? It means even though they went 7-9 and didn’t close to the playoffs this season they have a talented roster that with some slight adjustments could be good enough to contend in the AFC. It is no secret how close the Chargers are to being a great team. The Chargers have lost 16 games by eight points or less over the past two seasons. They have the most single digit losses in the league over the past two seasons. They hope that Brandon Staley’s new coaching staff and a few roster tweaks could be what the team needs to compete next season.
One of the biggest free agents the Chargers have next season is edge rusher Melvin Ingram. In seven games this season Ingram did not have a single sack. The Chargers could move on from Ingram and try to pair Joey Bosa with a new pass rusher. Watt could be a fantastic option to pair with Bosa next season. If the Chargers run a 3-4 defense they could line up both Watt and Bosa on the same side of the ball or could keep them as bookends. Either way opposing teams cannot double team both Watt and Bosa let alone triple team them like both have experience by multiple teams over the years.
In a division with Patrick Mahomes a pair of defensive lineman like Watt and Bosa to go along with the other defensive stars on this roster could be what the Chargers need to dethrone Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs.
Pairing up two of the best defensive lineman of the last decade 2.0
Team: Cleveland Browns
Compensation: 2021 Second Round Pick (59th Overall), 2021 Fifth Round Pick via Los Angeles Rams (153rd Overall)
After disappointing a season ago the Cleveland Browns have had their best season since 1994 going 11-5 and have made the playoffs for the first time since 2002. The Browns have become a run first team behind Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Baker Mayfield felt more comfortable this season spreading the ball out and becoming more of a point guard than a play maker just focusing on distributing the ball to his playmakers.
The Browns are going to want to build on this past season and in order to do that they have to spend their $17 Million in salary cap space on their positions of need which are along their defense. The Browns may not have enough salary cap space to eat Watts contract right now, but if they traded away Odell Beckham Jr. and David Njoku who were not crucial to the teams playoff run they would have over $38 Million in cap space overall.
Despite having the leagues best young pass rusher in Myles Garrett the Browns still need to generate more of a pass rush. Olivier Vernon bounced back in his second year with the team racking up nine sacks. But after rupturing his achilles in Week 17 his future with the team in uncertain, especially since he is a free agent. It may be easier and better in the long run if the team traded a combination of a Day 2 & 3 pick for Watt.
A defensive line made up of Garrett, Sheldon Richardson, Larry Ogunjobi, and Watt would be one of the best in the league and could push the Browns towards AFC title territory. Watt’s leadership and talent could be what the Browns need to get to the next leveL. He is a luxury they could afford while Mayfield is on a rookie deal.
Pushing a team into the Super Bowl
Team: Buffalo Bills
Compensation: 2021 Second Round Pick (61st Overall), 2021 Fifth Round Pick via Los Vegas Raiders (145th Overall), 2022 Sixth Round Pick
Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills played up to their potential and were one game away from making the Super Bowl this past season. But when the Bills were matched up against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship game they were blown out. This game showed that even though the Bills are amongst one of the best teams in the AFC they are not near the Chiefs yet.
Since the Bills are a little over $6 Million over the salary cap and have little needs they could ride into next season with their current roster. But the Bill should consider cutting some of the larger contracts of players they don’t need and acquire a big name player that could be enough to overtake the Chiefs in the AFC. That player is J.J. Watt.
The players the Bills can cut are John Brown, Jerry Hughes, Quinton Jefferson, and Vernon Butler. Brown is a fan favorite in Buffalo, but with how Gabriel Davis and Dawson Knox played in his absence he seems like a luxury at this point. While Jerry Hughes, Quinton Jefferson, and Vernon Butler have all underachieved for what they are being paid. The Bills are in desperate need of an edge rusher because of the lacking production by Mario Addison and because Trent Murphy is a free agent.
Watt could play opposite Mario Addison or on the inside while A.J. Epenesa lines up opposite Addison on passing downs. He can be the player the Bills desperately need that could get after the passer. Addison and A.J. Klein were tied for the team lead in sacks with five this past year. On a better team Watt could still produce at a high level. In Buffalo Watt will be the Bills best defensive lineman and a leader for a young team trying to make the Super Bowl as soon as next season.