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The Houston Texans added a significant name to the free agent market when they released defensive end JJ Watt. While a team like San Francisco in need of edge help might venture a look at the five-time First-Team All-Pro, it’s hard to imagine they seriously kick tires on him.
While Watt is a surefire Hall of Famer with three Defensive Player of the Year awards under his belt, his days as a dominant player on the edge are behind him. He’s set to turn 32 in March and his 9.0 sacks in 24 games over the last two seasons. Watt has played just two full seasons since 2016 and only 48 of a possible 80 games, although he posted 16.0 sacks in a full 2018 season.
This isn’t to say Watt is a bad player. He can still help a team. However, his price tag given his resumé could see a significant inflation. ESPN’s Ed Werder reported as many as 12 teams have inquired about the former Texans star.
Every season J.J. Watt has qualified, he has finished as a top-10 player at his position:
🔹 2011 – 75.1 (8th)
🔹 2012 – 92.3 (2nd)
🔹 2013 – 93.2 (1st)
🔹 2014 – 92.7 (1st)
🔹 2015 – 91.6 (2nd)
🔹 2018 – 90.5 (3rd)
🔹 2019 – 87.0 (9th)
🔹 2020 – 85.5 (7th) pic.twitter.com/1OIbLqsqtR
— PFF (@PFF) February 12, 2021
The issue the 49ers face is where he’d play. His most valuable role at this point in his career is probably in the same role Arik Armstead occupies as an edge-setting run defender in base packages and an interior rusher in sub packages. San Francisco has a ton of money tied up in Armstead and adding another relatively expensive player to that same role wouldn’t be a prudent use of the 49ers’ limited cap space.
If they were seeking to add edge help in free agency, it’ll probably be with less expensive players who they can try and fit into a specific role to maximize their talent. Their trade for DE Jordan Willis last season comes to mind where they utilized him solely as an edge rusher and didn’t ask him to drop in coverage or be a run-stuffing defensive end.
Kerry Hyder Jr. is also coming off a terrific year and at this point would likely be as valuable to the 49ers’ defense as Watt, but at a lesser price tag. If they were going to spend some in free agency, it’d behoove them to try and retain Hyder instead of going after the bigger name.
With the likes of Trent Williams, Kyle Juszcyzk and K’Waun Williams set to hit free agency for the 49ers, they’re going to have to spend wisely. Adding an edge player isn’t out of the question, but Watt shouldn’t be the player they’re targeting.