TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — J.J. Watt has agreed to a two-year contract with the Arizona Cardinals, showing that the franchise will be aggressive once again in their push to snap a five-year playoff drought.
The team announced the deal with the free-agent edge rusher on Monday. Watt was released last month by the Houston Texans, for whom he won three NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards.
A person familiar with the contract told The Associated Press that the total package is worth $31 million. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the team did not reveal any terms.
A five-time All-Pro, Watt — who turns 32 in three weeks — has been one of the NFL’s best players for a decade, but asked out in Houston, which is undergoing a roster upheaval. Watt joins another former Texans star, wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, in Arizona. Hopkins was acquired by the Cardinals in a one-sided trade a year ago.
Watt’s signing is an indication that the Cardinals are willing to spend money in their effort to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2015. They finished with an 8-8 record in 2020, losing five of their last seven games to fall just short of the postseason.
Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph can now add Watt to a group that already has veteran edge rusher Chandler Jones, who had 19 sacks in 2019 before his 2020 season was cut short by a biceps injury. The Cardinals also have young playmakers such as linebacker Isaiah Simmons and Pro Bowl safety Budda Baker.
Hopkins foreshadowed Watt’s arrival in the desert a few weeks ago on Instagram, when he posted a picture of the two players, including Watt in a photoshopped Cardinals jersey with the message “Let’s finish what we started ... ”
Watt’s arrival will certainly ratchet up the pressure on third-year Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury, who wasn’t quite able to push Arizona into the postseason in 2020. Kingsbury’s known for his offensive acumen — and was brought to mentor 2019 No. 1 overall pick quarterback Kyler Murray — but now the defense might be just as important to the Cardinals’ success.
Though he has been plagued by injuries in recent years, Watt started all 128 games in which he appeared in the past 10 years after entering the league as Houston’s first-round selection, 11th overall, in the 2011 draft out of Wisconsin. In 2017, he was selected as the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year for his work in helping Houston recover from Hurricane Harvey. Watt, who long has been lauded for his humanitarian efforts, helped raise more than $40 million in hurricane relief in 2017.
He was the league’s top defensive player in 2012, 2014 and 2015. Then injuries began to slow him. He appeared in only three games in 2016 and five the next season, sidelined by back problems and then a broken leg. In 2019, Watt missed half of the schedule with a torn pectoral muscle.
He returned to play the entire 2020 season and was effective, though not dominant.
So the Cardinals likely are not getting a vintage Watt, the only player in NFL history with 20 or more sacks and 10 or more passes defended in a single season, doing it in both 2012 and 2014. He’s tied for fifth among defensive lineman in league history with six touchdowns in the regular season, including three TD catches.
He has 101 career sacks, and over the past decade leads the league in tackles for losses (172), quarterback hits (281), multi-sack games (26) and sack yards (713 1-2).
AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner reported from New York.