After a crazy offseason in 2020, the Cardinals make another big splash on another former Houston Texan in 2021. This time, we get help on the defensive side of the ball, and in a big way. With holes on our interior defensive line and season-long inconsistencies with our pass rush, the Cardinals knew something needed the change. Pair this with poor secondary play, the Cardinals would need a player who could fill two needs at once. If only there was a player in free agency who could do this at the highest level, and just so happened to be a free agent that we wouldn't need to give up other players for. Oh wait, we do have that player available! His name? JJ Watt; one of the best defensive linemen in NFL history fell right into our laps.
After starting all 80 games in his first 5 season, Watt has struggled with injuries, resulting in starting in only 48 games over the previous 5 seasons. After winning the Defensive Player of the Year Award for a 3rd time at age 26, he endured some nasty injuries and missed significant time. After playing through a dislocated elbow, a hand fracture, and abdominal tears early in his career, Watt was sidelined for the first time in 2016, when he suffered vertebral disc hernia over the summer. He got surgery and played the first 3 games, but re-aggravated the injury and missed the rest of the season. Watt came back in 2017, hopeful to pick up where he left off in 2015. During the 5th game of the season, Watt went down with a tibial plateau fracture in his left leg. He came back strong in 2018, posting 16 sacks through 16 games played, as well as 7 forced fumbles and 18 TFLs. He got surgery in the offseason to address a knee strain he played through. 8 games into 2019, Watt would once again go down with a grade 3 pectoral tear, sidelining him for the remainder of the regular season. Come playoff time, Watt return to the field and recorded 1 sack and 2 QB hits against the Bills. The veteran would put up an admirable 2020 season, playing all 16 games, while recording 5 sacks and a pick six. After becoming frustrated with team culture and front office management, Watt demanded a trade on February 1st, which ultimately lead to his release on February 12th. Almost 3 weeks later, Watt was signed by the Arizona Cardinals on a 2 year deal worth $31 million.
Despite missing 40% of the games over the past 5 seasons, Watt is still the second highest active leader in sacks since 2012, right behind Cardinals elite pass rusher Chandler Jones, with 95 and 97.5 respectively. Overall, Watt is ranked 3rd and Jones is ranked 6th. So what does this mean for the Cardinals? During some of Watt's most productive years, he played under defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, who is now in the same position for the Cardinals. JJ has thrived as a versatile defensive linemen, playing inside on early downs, and moving to the edge on passing downs. Seeing he has dominated in this system, he looks to make a big impact, especially with Chandler Jones taking attention away on the other side of the defense. JJ can also play in a 3 tech on passing downs as well, allowing Dennis Gardeck more time as a pass rusher. On just 79 pass rush snaps, Gardeck tallied 7 sacks, generating a sack on 8.9% of pass rushes. If you compare this to another player who capitalized during pass rush situations, like Romeo Okwara of the Detroit Lions, he generated 10 sacks on 424 pass rush snaps, creating a 2.4% sack rate. Gardeck almost quadrupled this rate, and if we apply his sack percentage with the same amount of pass rush snaps Okwara played, Gardeck would have tallied 37.5 sacks, shattering the NFL record held by Michael Strahan (22.5 sacks). Although Gardeck's sample size is small compared to the rest of the pass rushers in the league, he won a good chunk of his pass rushes that didn't result in a sack as well. He could very easily break double digits next year, especially with pass rushing monsters like Watt and Jones taking away some blockers.
Photo: DeAndre Hopkins (Instagram)
Not only will JJ have an impact on the field, but he is also one of the most unselfish men off the field. Throughout his NFL career, he founded the Justin J. Watt Foundation, which assists after-school programs in an effort to provide activities and sports in a safe manner, he's donated over $6 million of his own money to provide sports equipment for multiple schools in the Houston area, and he created a campaign to raise $200,000 for relief after Hurricane Harvey; he ended up raising over $37 million (I got goosebumps writing that). With this, almost 1,200 homes were rebuilt, hundreds of thousands of meals were provided to impacted families, and people were able to get back on their feet. He brings incredible character to Arizona and looks to provide this same support and philosophy in his new city.
Just watch this video.
And that's only one season of his incredibly productive career. We most likely will never see a season like that from a defensive player again, but if anyone can come close to that, it's JJ Watt.