On Friday morning, the Houston Texans released JJ Watt, who is now free to sign with any team and does not have to wait until the beginning of the new league year to negotiate. Houston has been telling us for a month that they’re doing what’s best for their organization by holding onto Deshaun Watson, but they refused to do the same by getting any compensation for Watt. OK, then.
Watt's easy connections are the Pittsburgh Steelers, where his brother TJ plays, or the Green Bay Packers since Watt is from Wisconsin and played his college ball there. Green Bay is currently in the red when it comes to cap space. The Packers are $28 million over the cap, per OTC. Pittsburgh is in a worse situation as they are $30 million over the cap.
Watt is going to want to play for a contender. We can rule the Rams out, as they’re $26 million over the cap. Without going through each potential playoff team, my default answer is always the Ravens. They’re thought of as the best organization that does right by their players. We have to ask whether Watt wants out of the AFC and to start over in a new conference.
Enter, San Francisco.
Hell of a player, hell of a man, can only imagine he’s just as great of a coach.— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) January 15, 2021
Couldn’t be happier for Meco!! https://t.co/B6mQfZrAoC
We know the 49ers will be in the mix as they’re seemingly in on every available free agent. The front office is aggressive, and that’s not changing anytime soon. I’ve already seen some talk about how Watt is too expensive and even some, “we don’t need Watt because we have” discussion.
This is where looking at numbers can get you in trouble. There wasn’t a worse defensive line in football last year than the one in Houston. There’s no reason to beat around the bush: they were terrible. That didn’t stop Watt from playing his butt off and winning. When you watch Watt, it’s evident that he’s still among the better linemen in the league. He may not be as explosive as he once was, but he’s heading into Year 11. Watt is certainly as technically sound as ever and would be a welcomed addition in the Bay Area.
The cynic in you, and me, says, “three season-ending surgeries in his career and nine sacks in the past two seasons, eh, pass.” Then you realize how dominant Watt’s season eight games in 2019 were and that he still managed 26 QB hits this past season. I always go back to Sports Info Solutions' “total points saved” as it paints the best picture, and Watt finished fifth among all edge rushers.
The 49ers need athleticism. Watt is athletic. There will be a few plays during a game where an end like Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, and presumably Watt would have to drop into coverage. But the main reason is due to the flexibility it gives you upfront. You can play more games and be more creative when you have athletes upfront. Furthermore, Watt knows how to run stunts and games.
He wins. Above everything else, JJ beats his man. Watt finished eighth in pass-rush win rate this past season. The 49ers need a guy who can win.
Financially, how does he fit?
If we’re comfortable talking about signing a one-year wonder in Haason Reddick or splurging on an edge rusher in free agency, why not the best defensive lineman of the past decade?
Watt was scheduled to make $17.5 million in 2021 with the Texans. It’s impossible to project his market because Watt could very well take a little less to win, something that hasn’t happened a lot as a Texan.
The 49ers could do what they always do and offer Watt a contract where they push money into future years to make it work. Watt’s cap hit could be under $10 million this year like Armstead and George Kittle’s this past season since the salary cap isn’t as high, and the team could reward Watt in 2022.
There will always be fans who think the player is too expensive, but we have firsthand evidence that there are ways to get guys into the building. If the 49ers are to take advantage of their Super Bowl window — they’re in it right now, you don’t get to select when your window is — signing a veteran like Watt who you know will not only give you your all but demand the best out of the players around him is a no-brainer.
Will Watt want to join the 49ers is the only question that’s left to ask.