Photo via CBS Sports
One of the most coveted free agents on the market has already chosen his new team for the 2021 season as three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year winner, J.J. Watt has found a new home in the desert. Watt has signed a two-year with the Arizona Cardinals worth $31 million with $23 million guaranteed.
Watt is looking for a fresh start in Arizona after a tumultuous ending to his tenure with the Houston Texans, falling out of favor with former head coach Bill O’Brien before his firing after Week 4 of this past season. This past season, Watt only recorded five sacks despite playing in all 16 games, which is his lowest total in a full season since he recorded 5.5 sacks his rookie season in 2011. Since winning his third NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2015, Watt has suffered a slew of injuries, missing 32 of 80 regular season games while only playing two full seasons in the past five years.
He joins a Cardinals’ team that showed flashes of brilliance last season, starting 6-3, a stretch that included the “Hail Murray” in their 32-30 win over the Buffalo Bills. However, Kyler Murray and the offense suffered inconsistencies and injuries down the stretch, losing five of their last seven games, including a sluggish loss to the San Francisco 49ers at home in Week 16 where the offense scored only 12 points.
Defensively, the Cardinals ranked 13th in total defense, 10th in pass defense and were tied with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for fourth in sacks with 48. Hasson Reddick led the team with 12.5 sacks, filling the void for Chandler Jones who missed the last 11 games with a torn-biceps injury.
Given the current contract situation of the Cardinals and the direction of the franchise, this signing is puzzling. First, the Cardinals have seven starters on their defense that are slated to be free agents, therefore cap space is needed to shore up the holes on their defense. However, they just spent $31 million on Watt, a player who is not playing his best football currently and one with injury concerns. Not to mention the fact that their leading sack leader in 2020, Reddick, may not return to the team because the Cardinals may not be able to afford him. The chemistry on the defense will take a hit with the influx of talent leaving and signing Watt. Watt provides great leadership and will be valuable but questions remain about his ability to consistently produce and stay on the field again. I don’t think this move will be worth it long-term for the Cardinals considering the younger talent they may not be able to resign because of this deal.
Also, during his introductory press conference, Watt cited his confidence in Kyler Murray as a reason to go to the Cardinals but it is weird he didn’t choose a team that is in win-now mode and have the tools to win a championship. The Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills were two teams that could have used a pass rusher like Watt to help elevate them over the hump of a loaded AFC conference. Even if Watt believes in Murray, the Cardinals are not even the second-best team in their own division. Sean McVay has gone 8-0 as the Los Angeles Rams head coach and with Matthew Stafford, the Rams have become instant Super Bowl contenders. Also, the 49ers still have one of the most loaded rosters in the NFL and if they can upgrade their quarterback position, they will look to win their second NFC title in three seasons.
Overall, this was a surprising signing by the Cardinals, ending one of free agency’s most intriguing storylines. Time will tell if the Cardinals were too hasty with winning or if this was a missing piece to break through to the postseason.