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Free Agent Spotlight: Defensive End, J.J. Watt

We kick off our 2021 free agency spotlight series today with the longtime Houston Texan, who was just released on Friday.

The Buccaneers are no strangers to winning offseasons, but winning the 2020 offseason and then going on to win Super Bowl LV? That was an entirely new feeling for the organization.

Having just won the Lombardi Trophy, Tampa Bay is sure to have an interesting 2021 offseason. The Bucs have a number of their own free agents that they will look to bring back, and outside of retaining those guys, it’s hard to imagine there being many moves to make. After all, how many tweaks can be necessary for a team that just won it all, especially when that team has a young core?

Nonetheless, the front office will certainly explore all options to improve the roster in a way that will set it up for a repeat. So, as we begin our 2021 free agent spotlight series today, we’re taking a look at a big name: J.J. Watt. The veteran defensive end was released by Houston on Friday. Might he be a fit for the Bucs? Let’s break it down.

J.J. Watt’s Career Thus Far

2011 NFL Draft

Watt’s college football journey started at Central Michigan, where he played tight end. He originally was led to believe that he would be deployed as a receiving threat for the Chippewas, but in 14 games during the 2007 season, he totaled just eight receptions for 77 yards. It was then that his coaches suggested a move to right tackle, but instead, he left to be a walk-on at Wisconsin.

Watt moved to defensive end at Wisconsin, and in two seasons with the Badgers, he racked up 36.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, an interception and five passes defended. He won the Ronnie Lott Trophy in 2010 and was named a second-team All-American by AP and Sports Illustrated while also earning first-team All-Big Ten honors. Then, in the 2011 NFL Draft, Watt was selected by the Houston Texans with the No. 11 overall pick.

The 6-foot-5, 288-pound defensive end very quickly became one of the NFL’s best defenders. After picking up 5.5 sacks and 19 quarterback hits as a rookie in 2011, he was the AP Defensive Player of the Year in 2012 thanks to a season in which he finished with 20.5 sacks, 43 quarterback hits, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and 16 passes defended. He had a second consecutive Pro Bowl and All-Pro season in 2013 before going on to win AP Defensive Player of the Year again in the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Over those two years, he totaled 38 sacks, 101 quarterback hits, seven forced fumbles, six fumble recoveries, an interception, two defensive touchdowns and 18 passes defended.

Watt played only eight games total over the next two seasons due to injuries, but he came back with 16 sacks and 25 quarterback hits in 2018. Another injury-riddled season in 2019 preceded this past season that saw him finish with five sacks, 17 quarterback hits, a pick six, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Over 10 seasons, Watt has made quite the name for himself in Houston. He earned three Defensive Player of the Year awards, five Pro Bowl selections, five All-Pro nods and the 2017 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.

It was announced last Friday that Watt and the Texans mutually agreed to part ways, making the 31-year-old a free agent despite him having one year remaining on his contract with the team.

Why It Works

Adding Watt to the defensive line has to be an interesting proposition for the Bucs, as a player of his caliber doesn’t always become available the way he has. And when you consider the stars that Tampa Bay already has on defense, bringing in another has to sound pretty appealing. In terms of whether or not he’s a scheme fit, that checks out as well. He played well as a defensive end in the Texans’ 3-4 defense but is also capable of producing off the edge in a 4-3. That kind of versatility would suit Todd Bowles’ defense well, and there’s no doubt that the veteran still has a lot to offer.

Watt would also be a great addition to the locker room. Not only is he a seasoned veteran that can be useful for the defense’s younger players but he is also a fantastic community guy. He would seem to perfectly fit the Bucs’ culture in terms of the work they do in the Tampa Bay area.

Signing the soon-to-be 32-year-old defensive end would undoubtedly follow the “all in” philosophy that the front office adopted last season—and that obviously paid off in the form of a Super Bowl victory. Plus, at this stage of his career, Watt is likely looking to put himself in a position where he can win a ring of his own. So, in a lot of ways, Watt landing in Tampa would make sense.

But...

The Bucs would presumably like to re-sign Ndamukong Suh, plus they have William Gholston under contract for another year to play on the other side of Vita Vea in a 3-4 base defense. So, if Suh does return for a third year in Tampa, there wouldn’t seem to be a starting spot for Watt to step into unless it’s to unseat Gholston, who just had the best year of his career in 2020. Not to mention, there’s the money aspect of it all. Tampa Bay is in a decent spot in terms of cap space, but it has a host of its own guys to dole out new contracts to before it can really think about bringing in a player like Watt.

Age and injury history could be another issue to think about for the Bucs. While Suh is older than Watt and Gholston is going to be 30 himself by the start of next season, neither guy has the same injury concerns as Watt might as he enters his age-32 season.

What’s the Cost?

Watt was due $17.5 million in the final year of his contract with the Texans, but it’s unclear what his market will be like now that he’s a free agent. There are surely teams that are already lining up with big offers for the former Wisconsin Badger, though he’s obviously not going to sign the same kind of six-year, $100 million deal he got back in 2014. In fact, considering how much he has already made in his career, he may not be all that expensive if he feels the fit is more important than the money.

What We Don’t Know

We really don’t know what Watt will be prioritizing as he looks for a new team. Given his age and the money he already has, it’s unlikely that he’s looking for massive figures. But will he be more interested in going to a team that he’s likely to have a deep postseason run with or is comfort going to be more important? If he wants to play for a Super Bowl, the Bucs would be one of the top landing spots for him. But if he’s more interested in playing close to home, he may very well go back to Wisconsin to join the Packers. And perhaps even more likely than going home is heading up to Pittsburgh, where he can join his brothers T.J. and Derek.

Make The Decision

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This is a fun one, Bucs Nation. Years ago, the idea of J.J. Watt wanting to come to Tampa Bay because the team is a ready-made Super Bowl contender would’ve sounded insane. But over the last year, a lot of insane stuff has happened. Some people may have scoffed when Tom Brady was a focus in our free agent spotlight series last year, but look what happened there. Watt becoming a Buc isn’t all that crazy of a thought, really. But enough rambling, right? It’s time for you to make the decision. Be sure to vote in our poll and discuss your thoughts in the comments down below.

Poll

When It Comes To J.J. Watt, What Would You Have The Buccaneers Do?

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    Sign Him, No Matter What
    (28 votes)
  • 43%
    Make An Offer, But Keep It Reasonable
    (192 votes)
  • 36%
    Invite Him For A Cup Of Coffee And See Where It Goes From There
    (162 votes)
  • 5%
    Call Him Up If They Have A Need After The Draft
    (25 votes)
  • 7%
    Don’t Need Him
    (32 votes)
439 votes total Vote Now

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