National Football League
What to expect after J.J. Watt's big-money signing with the Arizona Cardinals
National Football League

What to expect after J.J. Watt's big-money signing with the Arizona Cardinals

Updated Mar. 2, 2021 11:46 p.m. ET

Monday's big NFL news came as a shock.

After J.J. Watt announced via social media that he's signing with the Arizona Cardinals, plenty of questions were asked. 

The future Hall of Fame defensive lineman certainly wasn't short of suitors, despite a shaky injury history, and most predicted the 10-year veteran would sign with a team that appeared set up for a Super Bowl run.

But the Cardinals were the choice, a team that lost in its lone Super Bowl appearance in 2008 and hasn't made the postseason since 2015.


It didn't hurt that the money was good (as detailed below). It also didn't hurt that the team rolled out the red carpet for him as well, even unretiring No. 99 -- after Watt spoke with the daughter of the player who earned that honor in the first place -- so that he could wear it.

 To examine Watt's decision and predict how much of an impact his past injuries could have on his future, we went to two experts in Geoff Schwartz and Dr. Matt Provencher for answers.

Why did Watt choose the Cardinals?
By Geoff Schwartz, FOX Sports NFL analyst

When Watt was released after the Texans granted his wish to move on, we all speculated Watt would sign with a contender, having only played in eight career playoff games since being drafted by the Texans in 2011.

After all, that is what athletes rounding the third base of their career all say, or rather, what we believe they want when presented with a fresh start: "I’ll take less money for a chance at a Super Bowl."

While most experts predicted Watt would sign with the Cleveland Browns, Buffalo Bills, Green Bay Packers or Pittsburgh Steelers, all teams that fit into the mold of a Super Bowl contender, Watt choose the Cardinals because of money.

While the decision to take less money might seem appealing to everyone reading this, the reality is, it’s hard to turn down millions of dollars, even if you already have enough money for a lifetime. Watt reportedly signed a $31 million contract over two seasons with the Cardinals. He’s getting $23 million guaranteed.

That guaranteed number is most likely double what any contender was willing to offer him per season to sign with a team closer to winning a Super Bowl. It’s hard to pass up that money.

A player, just like fans, can convince himself that a team he’s signing with is in fact a Super Bowl contender.

The Cardinals went 8-8 in Kliff Kingsbury’s second season, improving from their 5-10-1 record in his first season on an NFL sideline.

However, the offense didn’t improve like it should have with second-year starter Kyler Murray. The Cardinals are talented at the skill positions, but their offensive style doesn’t fit the personnel.

On defense, the Cardinals have playmakers, including pass rusher Chandler Jones and safety Budda Baker, but not much depth on either side of the ball.

Kingsbury is often overwhelmed in crunch time and his team underperforms.

While Watt might believe some of those trends can reverse themselves, I’m skeptical the Cardinals are even the best team in their division.

So, Watt did what most NFL players do … signed for the money.

More power to him.

Will Watt's injury history factor into his impact in Arizona?
By Dr. Matt Provencher, FOX Sports injury and performance analyst

We all know Watt is a big-time player, and Watt and Jones on the defensive line make for a dynamic duo in the desert. The big question Cardinals fans want to know is: How healthy is Watt?

First, let's look at the list of injuries Watt has sustained during his career.

  • August 2012: Arm ⁠— Elbow dislocation
  • November 2015: Abdomen ⁠— Muscle tear, grade 3
  • December 2015: Hand ⁠— Metacarpal fracture
  • July 2016: Back ⁠— Vertebral disc hernia
  • September 2016: Back ⁠— Vertebral disc hernia
  • September 2017:  Hand ⁠— Finger dislocation
  • October 2017: Leg ⁠— Tibial plateau fracture
  • January 2019: Knee ⁠— Strain, grade 1
  • October 2019: Chest ⁠— Pectoral tear, grade 3

His two most recent injuries include a knee strain in 2019, for which he had a minor scope cleanup at the end of the season, as well as a pectoral tear in 2019, resulting in surgery to repair the pec tendon. He only played eight games in the 2019 season, but all 16 in 2020.

Although these are significant injuries, they are recoverable to return to high-end NFL play. As he has demonstrated in the past, Watt is no stranger to surgery, rehabilitation, and subsequent return to play.

Watt's productivity went down a bit in 2020 when he returned, but he still performed well in terms of the overall number of tackles. He racked up 52 total tackles with the Texans last season, which is one more than his average of 51 total tackles per 16 games played.

However, Watt's five total sacks did register much lower than his average of 14 sacks per 16 games played in his career coming into 2020.

I expect Watt's productivity to be quite good next season in Arizona ⁠— especially in terms of tackles. But our stats at Proven Performance Technology (PPT) predict he will be down about 8% to 12% in terms of snap percentage overall. And the Cardinals might use him on more specific plays instead of as an every-down player.

Strategic load management – and perhaps play-specific snaps – will help the longevity of this soon-to-be 32-year-old star.


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