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Potential Landing Spots for J.J. Watt in 2021 NFL Offseason

BRENT SOBLESKI

 

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Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

While a potential Deshaun Watson trade dominates the NFL landscape, three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt asked the Houston Texans for his release Friday, which the team granted.

Sources previously told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport and Mike Garafolothat Watt "deserves clarity on his situation" as the standout defensive lineman entered the final year of his current contract. James Palmeradded, "The belief with teammates and coaches I've spoken to is that Watt has played his last game as a Texan."

All proved to be true.

CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora noted: "He knows he only has so many games left, and he is ready to go and try to win."

Potential landing spots will be based on two factors.

First, Watt will want to play for a winning franchise. Second, the soon-to-be 32-year-old won't come cheaply, even if he no longer holds a $17.5 million salary-cap charge in 2021. A contracting salary cap due to revenue lost this season will limit potential suitors.

For example, the Pittsburgh Steelers are a winning organization with a need along the defensive line. Plus, Watt playing alongside his two brothers would turn into one of the league's best offseason stories. However, the Steelers aren't in a financial position to make that type of move work. Not yet, at least.

The latter point is important considering the financial restrictions that accompany many winning franchises. Even if the salary cap doesn't decrease all the way to the agreed-upon $175 million, it won't leave much wiggle room. As of now, 11 organizations are in the red even at a projected $185, according to Spotrac.

Obviously, moves can be made. But will they be enough to add Watt? Probably not.

Options may be limited with four squads—all among the top 12 in projected salary-cap space next seasonas strong possibilities. But the Texans allowed the franchise's greatest player to leave, thus allowing him to continue his Hall of Fame career elsewhere.

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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Butch Dill/Associated Press

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have turned into the New England Patriots, in that Bruce Arians' squad is the place to be for veterans looking to play for a winning franchise with Super Bowl aspirations. 

All it took was one season with Tom Brady at the helm to change expectations within the organization. 

"The belief he gave to this organization that it could be done. It only took one man," Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians told reporters after Tampa Bay's 31-26 victory over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game. 

Clearly, Watt has great admiration for the Buccaneers' 43-year-old signal-caller. 

"Tom's unbelievable," the defensive lineman said during an appearance on The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon (h/t Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Christopher Kuhagen). "He's the greatest of all time." 

But this potential pairing isn't simply about two all-time greats possibly playing alongside one another. The Buccaneers will need defensive line help once the current campaign is complete. 

Shaquil Barrett, Ndamukong Suh and Rakeem Nunez-Roches are free agents after this season. Watt has the flexibility to play multiple positions in the front to replace anyone who might depart. 

Obviously, the Buccaneers aren't afraid to add aging veteran pieces when they can contribute at a relatively high level in the short term. Besides, Tampa Bay is surprisingly well-positioned for the next two offseasons with the 10th- and fifth-most salary-cap space, though the team does have other free agents to address in Chris Godwin, Lavonte David, Leonard Fournette and Rob Gronkowski

 

New England Patriots

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Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

The once-pristine exterior of the New England Patriots organization has been tarnished a bit after a 7-9 campaign and the organization's first missed playoff appearance since 2008. Bill Belichick even admitted the roster eroded after years of chasing championships, and the franchise didn't have the financial flexibility to make anything of substance happen. 

"I mean, it's obvious we didn't have any money. It's nobody's fault," the head coach said during a SirusXM NFL Radio interview (h/t Boston Sports Journal's Greg A. Bedard). "That's what we did the last five years: We sold out and won three Super Bowls, played in a fourth and played in an AFC Championship Game. This year, we had less to work with. It's not an excuse. It's just a fact."

A slight downturn shouldn't be viewed as a dismantling of the previous Patriots dynasty because New England is now positioned well to make some moves and return to competitive football. 

The Patriots own the league's fourth-most available salary-cap space, per Spotrac. Linebacker Dont'a Hightower, safety Patrick Chung, running back Brandon Bolden, offensive tackle Marcus Cannon, wide receiver Marqise Lee, fullback Danny Vitale, tight end Matt LaCosse and offensive lineman Najee Toran are expected back after opting out of the 2020 season.

Quarterback remains an issue, but the Patriots can add a player of J.J. Watt's caliber and grind toward victory. Belichick has repeatedly praised Watt over the years. 

"Everything with him is kind of at the top of the chartpowerful, strong, very instinctive. He's a smart player, he's got great quickness for his size (and) a lot of people miss him trying to block him," he once said, per the Houston Chronicle's John McClain

Watt may not be quite as good as he once was. But he's still a quality performer, and Belichick tends to get the most out of veterans. 

 

Cleveland Browns

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Kirk Irwin/Associated Press

The Cleveland Browns reset expectations in 2020 with an 11-5 campaign and an appearance in the divisional playoff round, during which they were within striking distance of a victory over the Kansas City Chiefs

With a talented roster, as well as the league's youngest general manager in Andrew Berry and the likely NFL Coach of the Year in Kevin Stefanski, the Browns are trending upward, which now makes them a desirable destination. 

Typically, the addition of an aging veteran like Watt may not be preferred for a squad built around young up-and-comers who are primarily on their rookie deals. However, the Browns searched far and wide for defensive end help last season before settling on Olivier Vernon at $11 million. 

To his credit, Vernon played well. But he ended the season on injured reserve due to a torn Achilles tendon in Week 17. He may not even be an option for the start of the '21 campaign. 

Before Vernon became the solution, the Browns had a long flirtation with Jadeveon Clowney. They considered Everson Griffin and even offered Vinny Curry a free-agent deal

Cleveland could build an imposing defensive front with Myles Garrett, Sheldon Richardson, Andrew Billings and Watt. More importantly, that lineup could draw some attention away from Garrett, who was in the NFL Defensive Player of the Year conversation before he contracted COVID-19. 

Plus, Watt would get the added bonus of playing his brothers twice per year in the AFC North. 

 

Los Angeles Chargers

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Peter Joneleit/Associated Press

The Los Angeles Chargers may have been 7-9 last season before firing head coach Anthony Lynn, but two factors play in their favor regarding a potential J.J. Watt trade. 

Justin Herbert's emergence as the likely NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year certainly helps the organization sell itself to interested parties. He broke the league's rookie record with 31 touchdown passes and fell just 38 yards short of Andrew Luck's first-year passing yardage mark. 

The numbers are great. But the fact Herbert is now in place settles the entire organization and gives it a quarterback worth building around. 

Second, the announcement of Brandon Staley as the new head coach would certainly make Watt comfortable.

While Staley didn't work directly under previous Los Angeles Ramsdefensive coordinator Wade Phillips, he took the previous setup and improved upon the scheme. The Rams finished first in scoring, passing and total defense this past season. Watt spent his first three seasons playing under Phillips, so some system overlap should exist. 

Melvin Ingram III can also test free agency after nine seasons with the Chargers. His potential departure leaves a void opposite Joey Bosa. 

The Kansas City Chiefs aren't going anywhere anytime soon atop of the AFC West, but the rest of the division is wide open, allowing another team to emerge as a playoff contender. Watt could help build a talented defensive front and provide the Chargers with an identity during Herbert's continued development. 

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He’s going right Pitt to play with his brother. 

SIGN THIS BEAST BUT ONLY FOR SHORT MONEY.

You had to figure this was coming.   He was scheduled to make 17.5 million next year. He was a beast, but the injuries have caught up to him, he has had 1 good season in the last 5.   His sack to

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3 hours ago, chirorob said:

You had to figure this was coming.   He was scheduled to make 17.5 million next year.

He was a beast, but the injuries have caught up to him, he has had 1 good season in the last 5.   His sack totals are 1.5, 0, 16, 4 and 5.   I love him as a player, but he had too many injuries.   He can still play as a contributing player, but I wouldn't sign him to a contract that is not heavily incentive based.   At this stage of his career, if he continues to play, I would have to thing it is on a contender to try to get a ring.

Spot on.  Not a chance in hell JJ comes to a team like the Jets.  He wants to go out a winner with a ring.  I could see him winding up in SF or Green Bay.

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53 minutes ago, munchmemory said:

Spot on.  Not a chance in hell JJ comes to a team like the Jets.  He wants to go out a winner with a ring.  I could see him winding up in SF or Green Bay.

49ers went 6-10 last season.  They lost half of their coaching staff.  Still do not have a QB.  And the Rams just got a whole lot better.

I don't see them as a contender in 2021.  Could be wrong, but nothing screams turnaround to me other than their DL getting healthier.

 

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4 minutes ago, nycdan said:

49ers went 6-10 last season.  They lost half of their coaching staff.  Still do not have a QB.  And the Rams just got a whole lot better.

I don't see them as a contender in 2021.  Could be wrong, but nothing screams turnaround to me other than their DL getting healthier.

 

Niners got completely decimated by injuries last season, especially at QB.   And I'm one of the few here who still believes Jimmy G has the potential to be a top QB.  If not for his terrible missed open TD in the final minute of their SB, he would be a hero with Montana and Young.  I'm not counting him out.

JJ to Rams definitely has merit.  Think he'd fit in well there.

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2 hours ago, HighPitch said:

Once again, I sit hear reading some news and all of a sudden race becomes an issue.

this has NOTHING to do with race. please stop.

Maybe it does or it doesn't - but certainly it looks like McNair and The Preacher want no one complaining, silent obedience and very possibly religious conformity. Watt complained about the PR woman and the equipment manager being axed despite their obvious proficiency at their jobs. There's just a lot more than meets the eye here - I could be completely wrong (happens too often,) but it could be even worse than I hypothesize. 

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Just now, munchmemory said:

Niners got completely decimated by injuries last season, especially at QB.   And I'm one of the few here who still believes Jimmy G has the potential to be a top QB.  If not for his terrible missed open TD in the final minute of their SB, he would be a hero with Montana and Young.  I'm not counting him out.

 

Very limited QB. Almost a statue in the pocket. Zero mobility. Arm strength isn't anything special. Can't stay healthy.

He's an injury prone, average QB in a very QB friendly system that isn't asked to do all that much.

Makes sense why Shanahan wants to upgrade at the spot now?

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5 hours ago, prime21 said:

Class act.

 

As a Jets fan, I never thought I'd pity another team's fanbase for their leadership being so abjectly terrible.

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4 hours ago, Jetsfan80 said:

Well its the comment itself AND what it exposed about how the Texans run things that is pertinent here.  Not only did Bob McNair say what he said, everything they've done as an org before and since that comment suggests they believe it and show no remorse for that perspective.  It essentially amounts to being an org motto of sorts.

Only now do you have players feeling empowered enough to say something about it.  You had Andre Johnson coming out of the woodwork to support Watson and back him on what he had to say about how poorly they run things and the pretty open contempt with which they treat their own players.  That's meaningful. 

For as inept as the Jets are, they don't seem to openly treat players like objects, at least not like the Texans seem to do.  Jets alums like Brandon Marshall, Damien Woody, etc don't have anything negative to say about the Johnson's in the sense of how the players get treated.  The criticism is levied against the decisions that impact wins and losses.  That's a pretty stark and important difference.  Now that the Texans had a terrible season and there are zero signs that things will get better any time soon, the W-L record AND the optics will both be terrible.  Even if they had money to spend, what free agents are going to sign there without a massive overpay?

Hence why moving forward, the Jets org will prove to be much better under Douglas/the Johnson's than the Texans will be under the McNair/Easterby combo.

The proof is in this pudding: 

The lowly Jets have countless alumni(and one particular boisterous former HC) outright root for the club and talk glowingly about the brand, owners and fan base,

The Texans have had their cornerstone player, who’s a pillar in the community, openly apologize to their disgruntled franchise QB for the actions of ownership/FO, an evangelist who has more access than he should to a professional football team seemingly trying to re-create an monastery not a football team, and a growing number of alumni speaking out against this mess that lil McNair has created or at minimum let run a muck unchecked...

With the moves made in Florham Park over the last 18 months or so it’s clear one organization is trending up and the other is trending down....

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Watt wasn't washed-up last year.

He just didn't get double-digit sacks or 4 QB pressures/game is all. Hardly shocking considering their secondary maybe being the worst ever & nobody else on the line drawing serious attention with the likes of Mercilus & Omenihu basically invisible. The D as a whole surrendered a 70% completion percentage against and iirc the average QB rating against on the season was like 106 or something. Kind of makes it harder to pressure/sack a QB under those circumstances.

 

 

Watt had a very solid season; just not one of his HOF-level seasons and probably not worth $17.5MM a year later (let alone to a team desperate for cap room who doubly has neither a 1st nor a 2nd round draft pick). 

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2 hours ago, Spoot-Face said:

Class act.

 

As a Jets fan, I never thought I'd pity another team's fanbase for their leadership being so abjectly terrible.

Imagine being bad enough to have worse ownership than the Jets. I feel like we should all chip in and buy the Johnsons a “not the worst boss” mugs or something. 

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8 hours ago, Rhg1084 said:

 

I mean good for them and all on trying to make up for months of being a disorganized sh!tshow in the front office by doing the right thing by JJ and releasing him rather than trading him.  But now they turn back inward, still have Deshaun Watson who is probably saying, "Cool... it's not like we need any draft picks or anything."

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20 hours ago, HighPitch said:

Thanks for not pointing out the color of their skin.

but great point. Deshawn wants out, they say no way.

watt wants out, ok no problem just go. We wont even trade you elsewhere for a 3rd.

yea im no watson fan but id be extra pissed this morning 

Easterby thinks we will sign Watt and then as a result will include QW in an offer for Watson- Easterby has been non stop asking for QW in any package

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