The Houston Texans have placed J.J. Watt on injured reserve after the star defensive lineman re-injured his back. According to the Associated Press, the Texans expect Watt to be on the sideline at least until December -- and possibly the rest of the season.
Watt took to Twitter after the news was announced to say he's looking forward to the "fight back to the top."
Adversity sucks.— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) September 28, 2016
Your attitude towards it doesn't have to.
I will be back. pic.twitter.com/56lhtHYs7r
Watt, who has won each of the last two Defensive Player of the Year awards and three during his NFL career, underwent two different surgeries after the Texans' 2015 season ended. In January he had surgery on a sports hernia and in July he had surgery on a herniated disc in his back. He subsequently started training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list. However, he was able to return by Week 1.
Watt had struggled to resemble his usual dominant self through the first three weeks of the 2016 season, even as he collected 1.5 sacks during a Week 2 win over the Chiefs. He was practically invisible during an embarrassing Week 3 drubbing at the hands of the Patriots, where it was obvious he was struggling.
The Texans signed defensive end Antonio Smith to take Watt's spot on the roster and presumably in the lineup, but it should be fairly obvious that they do not have anyone that can replace his production or impact. He has been far and away the best defensive player in football since entering the league in 2011, and while the Texans have supplementary pass-rushers that have been productive while playing alongside Watt (Whitney Mercilus and this year, Jadeveon Clowney), it seems safe to say they will not be quite as free to get after the quarterback without Watt on the field.
That should have a huge effect on the Houston defense, which is still the team's stronger unit even after an offseason spree that saw the team sign Brock Osweiler and Lamar Miller and draft Will Fuller and Braxton Miller. The Texans rank 24th in total yards and tied for 31st in points so far this season, as well as last in Football Outsiders' offensive DVOA (which adjusts performance for down, distance, and opponent). They will obviously need the offense to step up in a big way without Watt leading the way for the defense.
It's hard to say what the injury might mean for Watt's career. Players have returned from serious back injuries and even back surgeries to be incredibly productive. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo had the best season of his career after herniated disc surgery and a subsequent fracture of two transverse processes in his back. But some have also seen their careers derailed by injuries to the same area (we can look at Romo again here, as he just suffered another back break and it's unknown when he'll be able to return to the lineup). Back injuries generally are not the type that can be cured -- symptoms can be managed but doctors have noted that removing the troubled disc represents the only long-term solution.
A league without Watt -- or with a severely diminished Watt -- would be a worse place for all NFL fans, not just those that support the Texans. But at this point, with two serious back injuries in two seasons, it's unfortunately something we might have to start contemplating.