J.J. Watt was a mainstay on the field and sidelines for the Texans for a decade. The team selected him with the 11th pick in the 2011 NFL Draft and he was one of the marquee players to watch any time that Houston has played in prime time.
But when the Texans face the Panthers on “Thursday Night Football,” they will do so without Watt. He and the Texans parted ways during the 2021 offseason.
Watt put together a storied, Hall of Fame career with the Texans. He was named an AP All-Pro five times and logged 101 sacks during his career. That’s the most in Texans history by a wide margin; Whitney Mercilus (55) is in second on the list.
Watt also won the Defensive Player of the Year award three times.
Why did J.J. Watt leave the Texans? And where is he playing during his 11th NFL season? Here’s everything you need to know about Watt’s offseason of change.
Why did J.J. Watt leave the Texans?
Watt and the Texans mutually agreed to part ways during the 2021 offseason. He announced that decision in a video posted to his Twitter account on Feb. 12, 2021.
This wasn’t a surprise. The Texans went 4-12 during the 2020 season and were heading for a rebuild. Watt wanted to play for a contender.
“I don’t think it’s any secret that I don’t have 10 years left in this league,” Watt said in November of 2020, per ESPN. “I personally believe that I do have a few more great ones left in me. But you also can’t … I’m not looking to rebuild. I’m looking to go after a championship, and that’s what I want to do. So, whatever is in the best interest of the Houston Texans, that’s in the best interest of myself.”
The Texans — who were set to search for a new coach and GM after firing Bill O’Brien and had no first or second-round picks in the 2021 NFL Draft — couldn’t offer Watt a chance to play for a playoff team, let alone a Super Bowl winner. So, they elected to part ways.
The goodbye was a heartfelt one for Watt.
“I came here 10 years ago as a kid from Wisconsin who’d never really been to Texas before. And now I can’t imagine my life without Texas in it,” Watt said. “The way that you guys have treated me — besides draft night, I mean you guys booed me on draft night — but every day after that you treated me like family. And I truly feel like you’re my family.”
The Texans shared the sentiment and thanked Watt for everything he had done for the franchise in an official statement from the team.
“Change is never easy, especially when it involves the ones you love. J.J.’s impact on not only our organization, but the entire Houston community, is unlike any player in our franchise’s history,” said Texans Chair and CEO Cal McNair. “I told J.J. earlier this week that we will forever consider him a Texan. We take solace in knowing that this is not a goodbye but a ‘see you soon.'”
Watt was released shortly after that announcement was made, and he got ready to move on to his second NFL team.
“I’m excited and looking forward to a new opportunity,” Watt said. “And I’ve been working extremely hard. But at the same time, it is always tough to move on. And I just want you guys to know that I love you, I appreciate you. I appreciate the McNair family for drafting me and giving me my first opportunity NFL. Thank you, Houston, I love you.”
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Where is J.J. Watt now?
Watt is playing for the Cardinals in 2021. He signed a two-year deal worth $28 million to join a defensive line that already features one of the NFL’s best pass rushers, Chandler Jones.
Watt’s move has worked out so far. The Cardinals are 2-0 to start the season and looked like a legitimate playoff contender after manhandling the Titans 38-13 in Week 1. Week 2 was a bit dicier, but they still pulled off a 34-33 win over the Vikings.
While Watt has yet to generate a sack in Arizona, he has racked up four tackles, a tackle for loss and a quarterback hit. He also helped take attention away from Jones during his five-sack outing in the Cardinals’ season opener.