Why the Bills weren’t the team to sign J.J. Watt

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Nick Wojton
·4 min read
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The Buffalo Bills did not land free agent defensive end JJ Watt. On Monday, Watt finally ended his two-plus week free agency circus by signing with a bit of a surprise team, the Arizona Cardinals.

The Cards were seldom mentioned in the arena for Watt’s services, so the 31-year-old taught many a good lesson on not always believing everything you’re told.

But in the end, there had to be reasons why he picked Arizona over the likes of Buffalo and others, right? Here’s a quick rundown of a few of those:

Money talks

Texans defensive end J.J. Watt. Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Technically the Bills do have money to spend, but NFL rules only allow them to spend so much. That's what a salary cap is. As many have heard, the Bills are up against it in 2021. The cap next season is going to drop to a reported area between $180-185 million. The Bills sit right between those two numbers, but still probably could have made a contract for Watt work. His cap hit for 2021 will be around $8.5M, per Cards Wire. But the Cardinals appear to have just felt fine with tossing out a lot of guaranteed money at Watt. Money talks and the Cardinals and their $31 million offer squashed all. Of that $31M, a ton of it is guaranteed, $23M. Plus, what also makes sense is the length of the deal. It's only two years. Many suspected that Watt was going to "chase rings" with this contract. In two years when he's 34, he's going to sign another contract. That's when he's much more likely to sign cheaper with a Super Bowl contender.

Can't debate this...

Texans defensive end J.J. Watt. Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY

Buffalo loves to send those pictures out on social media and talk about how in the summer and early fall it's gorgeous weather outside. No debating it, that's true. There's also no debating that it's currently early March and Watt loved that it was nice out in Arizona this week. He said exactly that during his introductory press conference: Watt liked that weather and it's something western New York currently could offer. “I’m also not going to lie to you, it doesn’t hurt when it’s 65 degrees and sunny outside when I woke up this morning. It was pretty nice,” Watt said. Sorry for those pro-Buffalo weather people out there. Not a good day for them.

Still a good team

Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

A lot of general feeling on Watt joining the Cardinals from western New York took offense in regard to team talent. Many suggested Watt only wanted the money... and it's hard to debate that didn't play a part. Good for him even if that is the case. It's his life, not yours. But let's not fully twist this: Did the Bills go further last year than the Cardinals? Of course. Does that make the Cards a bad team? Not at all. They're actually a pretty solid roster and will have a chance for success themselves as well. In 2020, the Cards were 8-8 and it took a miracle, but they did even beat the Bills. Kyler Murray is no slouch of a quarterback, either. It's not like Watt picked the Jets...

Less familiar faces

Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. (AP Photo/Jennifer Stewart)

Friends help. The Cardinals had a couple for Watt. In Buffalo? Not so much. Maybe Watt knows front office executive Brian Gaine? He left the Bills front office for the Texans' general manager spot, only to quickly skip town like others and return to the Bills. But that's a front office guy. Arizona's defensive coordinator is Vance Joseph. He previously was an assistant coach with the Texans from 2011-13. A bit more "hands on" in this area than Gaine would have been. And Watt was the face of the franchise in Houston... sharing that role with wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins for several years before Hopkins was traded... to the Cardinals. Those two appear to have played a significant role in convincing Watt.

The Bills don't have a good D-line

Cardinals linebacker Chandler Jones (Gannett photo)

Jordan Phillips was right, even though Buffalo took offense to it. On Monday when the news of Watt signing broke, Phillips was excited. The former Bill sent out a message on his social media page that essentially pointed out the Cardinals have a lot of pass-rushing talent on their defensive line now so who will opponents double team? Exactly. The Bills would rely on Watt to be the No. 1 pass rusher on their roster. Jerry Hughes is good, but he really doesn't get sacks. Not like Chandler Jones, and we're still waiting for some pass-rushing talent to breakout in Ed Oliver down the middle, too. Watt will have more help in the trenches in Arizona than in Buffalo. He knows that comparing the two rosters.

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