5 possible destinations for where J.J. Watt could sign
Now that J.J. Watt has been released, the fan bases of the 31 teams not named the Houston Texans are all lathered up for the idea of adding the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Of course, not all of those teams will have a shot at signing him. It would be naive to think that Watt didn't already have a handful of possible destinations in mind for his next squad. His agents are likely hard at work — and likely already have been so, wink wink — at landing him in the most ideal spot.
Watt, 32, endured a hard season in which his fire clearly still burned. He ended up speaking his mind quite loudly a few times with the media when asked about the course of the Texans during what ended up a 4-12 campaign.
It's clear at this stage of his career that Watt will place a high value on landing with a contender where he can make a run at a Super Bowl title. He's one of the best active players without a ring.
He's not the same player he once was, with Watt's body having suffered through some major injuries in recent years. But there absolutely are teams that feel he can still produce, so there should be a fairly robust pursuit of the star defensive lineman.
Here are five teams we think could make a lot of sense:
On paper, you'd have to consider the Steelers the favorite here, as they have an edge that no other team can match. Signing in Pittsburgh would give Watt the unique opportunity to play alongside his two brothers, T.J. and Derek.
That's never happened in the NFL's annals before, and it would make for a great reunion story. You could tell how much it meant to all three when they became the first trio of brothers to play in the same NFL game last season, so it's a factor that absolutely cannot go overlooked.
The Steelers' defense is among the best in the NFL, but adding Watt could help a unit that might lose surprise contributor Tyson Alualu to free agency. The Steelers also have a decision to make on outside rusher Bud Dupree. And even though Dupree plays a different spot than Watt, it's easy to see how one addition could help offset a potentially big loss in free agency.
The big question is money. Is that Watt's biggest factor in picking his team? If so, the Steelers might need to get creative. They have less salary-cap flexibility than other teams on this list and might need to shuffle some people and some contract around a bit.
But adding Watt and his leadership — especially with Ben Roethlisberger closing in on his twilight and the respected Maurkice Pouncey calling it a career — would bring some serious late-career value to Pittsburgh.
Green Bay Packers
Watt is a Wisconsin native and a self-avowed Packers fan as a kid, having grown up two hours down the road from Green Bay, just outside Milwaukee.
The Packers just made a second straight NFC title game, and Watt is believed to want to join a contender. Those two elements are two huge selling points, as Watt would walk in the door a beloved figure in Wisconsin again after starring there in his college days.
Watt and Aaron Rodgers also are said to have a healthy relationship, with each going out of their way to praise the other in their years of competing against one another. Even so, there was a fun moment back in 2012 when Watt sacked Rodgers and mocked his "Discount Double Check" celebration of yore.
This pairing isn't hard to envision, and it would help boost a Packers front that had Kenny Clark but few other standouts last season. Green Bay has the ability to free up enough cap space to make this happen, we suspect.
This is our long shot of the lot, but it wouldn't be stunning to see the Bears make a run at Watt in a critical season for head coach Matt Nagy and GM Ryan Pace.
For the Bears' brass, it would be an opportunity to sell the franchise's love affair with defense and perhaps send signals to other prospective free agents that they're serious about contending this season.
But for Watt to consider the Bears, they'd likely have to play up the idea of him being in the same city as his wife, Kealia Ohai Watt, who plays for the Chicago Red Stars of the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL).
It's a stretch, and there's the question of whether the Bears could afford Watt, but they'd have to make a run at him, even with major questions looming at quarterback and with the free-agent status of leading receiver Allen Robinson, who should be a higher priority if he's interested in coming back.
New England Patriots
Bill Belichick just suffered through his first losing season in nearly 20 years — and then watched his former quarterback win a Super Bowl in a different uniform.
It's officially all systems go on getting this rebuild back on track for Belichick and his staff, who have been said to be going full steam ahead at figuring out ways to improve on their difficult 2020 campaign.
One shocking development in New England last season was the decline of the defense, especially against the run and in short-yardage situations. Watt would be a huge upgrade in that department.
And it would be foolish to underestimate Belichick's power of persuasion when it comes to bringing select veterans to Foxboro. Roman Phifer, Rosevelt Colvin and Rodney Harrison all balked initially at the idea of joining the spartan Patriots long ago but were won over when Belichick started talking ball with them.
Belichick long has been a huge fan of Watt, and yet the Patriots historically did a great job of holding him in check when they faced off. There has to be a part of Watt that would love to be coached up by the legend and to try to win a ring in New England.
Oh, and the Patriots are flush with cap space. They're not known as the team that outbids opponents often in free agency, but Belichick will make exceptions (see Stephon Gilmore) for players he believes are true difference makers.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were in our minds here, too, and it would not be stunning to see the Super Bowl-champion Bucs make a run at Watt and him considering a year or two with Tom Brady and this talented roster as his best chance at a ring.
The Baltimore Ravens are another team that make sense. They love their veteran contributors, have a need and could sell Watt on coming there to chase a title.
But we cannot overlook the Cowboys as a strong possibility, as Jerry Jones always has longing eyes for big-name stars. Beyond that, Dallas absolutely could use the help defensively. They were near the bottom of the league in sacks and gave up massive tracts of yardage in a brutal 2020 season defensively.
Watt also has grown to love Texas, and this could keep him in the state he's called home for nearly a decade now. Plus, Jones would never pass up an opportunity to rub some salt in the wounds of the other Lone Star State team that's mired in the early stages of a franchise reset.
Cowboys players have already started their sales pitch.
. @JJWatt 📲 👀
— DeMarcus Lawrence (@TankLawrence) February 12, 2021
Now, can they pay Watt? There is the matter of Dak Prescott's situation, and the cap space in Dallas isn't exactly flowing. But that's seldom stopped this franchise in the past when unique opportunities have presented themselves.
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