For the first time in his NFL career, three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt is available to be signed by the New England Patriots.
Watt asked for his release from the Houston Texans, and the two parties mutually agreed to part ways on Friday after 10 seasons together, the five-time first-team All-Pro and two-time NFL sacks leader said in a statement Friday morning.
And yes, absolutely, the Patriots should be reaching out to Watt’s representatives to try to swing a deal for the five-time Pro Bowl selection. The Patriots are set to have over $60 million in salary-cap space this offseason and desperately need pass-rush and run-defense help along their front seven.
Watt, who will be 32 years old in March, isn’t quite as dominant as he was earlier in his career but is still one of the best and most complete defensive linemen in the NFL. The 6-foot-5, 288-pound defensive end registered five sacks and 17 quarterback hits in 16 games last season. He had 45 pressures and 34 defensive stops, per PFF.
The Patriots currently only have defensive linemen and edge defenders Beau Allen, Michael Barnett, Rashod Berry, Tashawn Bower, Byron Cowart, Anfernee Jennings, Bill Murray, Akeem Spence, Nick Thurman, Josh Uche and Chase Winovich signed for the 2021 season. Adam Butler, Shilique Calhoun, Brandon Copeland, Carl Davis, Lawrence Guy, John Simon and Deatrich Wise are set to hit free agency in March.
Watt would immediately become the Patriots’ best defensive lineman since Vince Wilfork departed the team after the 2014 season. Where would he fit in? Anywhere from defensive end in a three- or four-man front to three-technique defensive tackle. He’s a stout and disruptive run defender and a fierce pass rusher from anywhere on the defensive front.
There are some risks involved in signing Watt since he’s played in 48 games and missed 32 contests over the last five seasons. Watt has stayed healthy for full 16-game seasons in 2018 and 2020, however.
Watt had 16 sacks and 25 quarterback hits during that 2018 season, the last time he was named a Pro Bowl selection and first-team All-Pro.
Watt won defensive player of the year awards in 2012, 2014 and 2015 and was the NFL sacks leader in 2012 and 2015. The 2011 first-round pick was a unanimous selection onto the 2010s All-Decade Team.
The Patriots will have plenty of competition for Watt’s services. Both of his brothers, outside linebacker T.J. and fullback Derek, play for the Pittsburgh Steelers. T.J. Watt has already started his recruiting campaign.
The Patriots would have to convince Watt that he, along with other key additions, would help New England improve upon last season’s 7-9 finish.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick praised Watt’s abilities in November before New England played the Texans.
“Big challenge and I think honestly the experience that J.J. has is very valuable for him,” Belichick said. “Obviously, he has a lot of skill — he’s long, he’s strong, powerful, very quick — but his experience and anticipation is outstanding. And going up against a player who doesn’t have as much as JJ does and hasn’t played against him, I think you really have to be mindful of the tricks that JJ has up his sleeve.
“He doesn’t do the same thing every time. He does a good job of taking advantage of opportunities or changing his techniques based on the situation. He’s a tough guy to play against. So, I think his experiences is a big asset for him. I know Mike (Onwenu)’s studied him hard and will be ready to go, but until you actually face a guy like J.J., it’s hard to replicate him in practice or what it’s really going to be like during the game.”
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