J.J. Watt is the greatest player in Texans franchise history. The 11th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft has morphed from Wisconsin walk-on to perennial All-Pro and Pro Bowler, three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and Walter Payton Man of the Year. He’ll eventually have his number retired and his face in bronze in Canton. #99. Steel blue. It’s iconic.
That was the past. This season, Watt has been a good player. No one wants to admit this, but J.J. Watt hasn’t been J.J. Watt this season. He’s struggled beating offensive tackles to the point of attack, and his pass rushes that worked last year (edge rips and ghost rips that set up an inside swim counter move) aren’t working this year. He’s struggled against Mitchell Schwartz, Orlando Brown, Chukwuma Okorafor, Brian O’Neil, Jawaan Taylor, and Dennis Kelly. He hasn’t played the run that much this season. Last week was the best game of his 2020 season, with two run stops against Dennis Kelly and a chop-rip forced fumble against Ty Sambrailo once Taylor Lewan exited the game.
At 1-5, the Texans’ postseason dreams are dead. Because of Bill O’Brien’s decision to trade for Laremy Tunsil two years ago, the Texans are also without a first and second round draft pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Houston’s entire defense is decimated and devoid of talent. The skill player position group is unsettled. It’s Deshaun Watson, an under-performing offensive line, and that’s it.
Even without a general manager, the Texans need pick volume. They need to try and restock their bare draft capital to acquire cost-effective talent. With Tunsil and Watson’s extensions kicking in, along with previous absurdly stupid contract decisions, the Texans are over the cap entering the 2021 offseason. Benardrick McKinney, David Johnson and Brandin Cooks are trade candidates if the Texans can get anything for them; if they can’t, it would make sense to release all three players after this season.
Watt carries the team’s second highest cap hit next season. With a cap hit of $17.5 million and getting paid like one of the best players in the league despite no longer playing at that top level—what’s his PFF Grade?—the litany of holes on the Texans’ roster, their lack of draft picks, and the fact that this team needs more than a new head coach to compete again, this may be the best time to trade Watt and move on.
It’s a nasty thing to say. It’s a gross thing to feel. But everything points to it. There’s no reason to pay Watt as much as they are with the salary cap and talent issues Houston has. There’s no reason for Watt to flail about on a Houston team that’s 1-5 this year and is probably going to have to fight for a playoff spot next year. Keeping Watt is based around love and all the beautiful things that happened before, not what makes sense right now.
If Watt asks for a trade to a contender, Houston must trade him. It would be the right thing to do. If Watt keeps quiet and continues to provide above average performance, trading him would still probably be the right thing to do. Again, the team has too many holes, a lack of draft capital, and salary cap struggles—moving Watt can alleviate some of these concerns.
The biggest question isn’t whether the Texans should trade Watt. It’s what they could get for an age 31 defensive end whose performance has dropped off in 2020. Would the Bills, Browns, Buccaneers, Raiders, Bears. Packers, Saints, Seahawks, Cardinals, 49ers, or Rams, all teams that are competing for playoff berths, give up a second, or even a third, round pick for J.J. Watt?
In the right situation, and after a salary restructure, Watt should be worth at least a second round pick right now. On the right team, one that already has run defending defensive ends, Watt should be able to flourish as a rotation pass rusher. Give him 25 snaps a game. Let him chase the quarterback. Don’t make him defend the run and do something he barely even does to begin with. In that role, he’d be able to rush the passer both from the interior and the exterior instead of just lining up against right tackles that have been able to lock him down.
If Houston could move Watt for a second round pick before the trade deadline this year, they should. The teams that were around a decade ago or gone. All ties to the past are severed. It’s Watson’s team now; Watt said it himself. It’s up to Houston to build a team around Watson, and by trading Watt, they could add draft picks they desperately need and remove some of their salary cap pressure.
I know what Houston should do. Do you?
Should the Texans Trade J.J. Watt?
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