During the 17 days that J.J. Watt was a free agent, the Texans star was connected to multiple teams. But for the most part, the Cardinals never really seemed to be in the conversation, which is one reason why it was so shocking on Monday when Watt announced on Twitter that he would be signing with Arizona. (It was also shocking that a fake Peloton account fooled America, but that's another story.)
Although it was surprising to see Watt sign a two-year, $31 million deal with the Cardinals, the move actually makes a lot of sense and here are five reasons why.
1. Watt is familiar with the defensive coordinator
It might not have been the deciding factor in Watt's choice, but you can bet that one of the reasons he ended up signing with Arizona is because of his familiarity with Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph. The two have a long history together that dates back to Watt's rookie year in 2011, when Joseph was the defensive backs coach on Houston's staff. Joseph ended up spending a total of three years in Houston learning under then Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, and to this day, Joseph still uses many of the same philosophies.
The reason this is good news for Watt is because three of his best seasons came while playing in Phillips' defense. During his first three seasons in the NFL, Watt totaled 36.5 sacks, which was the fifth-most in the league over the span. Thanks to those three years together, Joseph might be the one defensive coordinator in the NFL who knows best how to put this older version of Watt in a position to succeed.
2. Watt gets to team up with Chandler Jones
Although Watt managed to stay healthy last year, he ended 2020 with the lowest sack total of his career in any season where he played all 16 games. On the surface, putting together a five-sack season might make it seem like Watt was struggling, but the truth is, a big reason why those struggles happened is because nearly every opposing offense was focusing on him.
J.J. Watt was double-teamed as an edge rusher 30% of the time in 2020, the highest rate among qualifiers. https://t.co/ClqFBMTktG— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) March 1, 2021
Watt saw more double-teams than any other pass-rusher in the NFL -- and when you're being double-teamed, it's not easy to be productive. In Arizona, Watt should almost certainly see fewer double-teams and that's because he's going to be on a defensive line that's also going to have Chandler Jones rushing the passer.
Over the past nine years, Watt and Jones have been the two most productive pass-rushers in the NFL when it comes to sacks.
Most sacks in the NFL since 2012:— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) March 1, 2021
1. Chandler Jones (97)
2. JJ Watt (95.5) pic.twitter.com/JYUREutdaP
Although both players are getting up their in age -- Watt will be 32 on March 22 and Jones is 31 -- they're both still productive and it won't be surprising at all if they're even more productive now that they're on the same defense.
3. Cardinals better positioned in case they lose Haason Reddick
One of the biggest questions the Cardinals are going to face this offseason is whether they should bring back Haason Reddick. After a career year that saw him tally 12.5 sacks, it's not going to be cheap to keep him and Arizona knows that. The Cardinals could hit him with the franchise tag, but at an estimated cost of $15.66 million, that might end up being something Arizona can't afford since they only have roughly $11 million in cap space right now.
The Cardinals also won't be able to get into a bidding war for Reddick's services, which means there's definitely a chance that he'lll be leaving in free agency. If Reddick does walk, the Cardinals are now in a better position to absorb his loss thanks to the addition of Watt. On the other hand, if Reddick does get re-signed, the Cardinals would have a loaded defense that would feature Jones, Watt, Budda Baker, Isaiah Simmons and Byron Murphy. At that point, the only true holes would be at corner and the Cardinals could focus on that in free agency or the draft.
4. Watt goes to a contender
If one thing was clear with Watt's free agency tour, it's that he wanted to play for a contender and the Cardinals definitely fit that bill heading into 2021. Last season, the Cards missed the playoffs because they lost a tiebreaker to the Bears for the last spot in the NFC. During their 8-8 season, the Cardinals lost five of their eight games by just one score and three of those five one-score losses came by three or fewer points. Basically, the Cardinals were competitive in almost every game they played and they were just a few plays away from possibly going 10-6 or even 11-5. When you're that close, one player can put you over the edge and Watt might be that one player.
One reason the Cardinals were so good is because of Kyler Murray, who apparently has a history with Watt.
6 years ago.. my senior year of HS. Welcome to AZ! Let’s get it! @JJWatt pic.twitter.com/yY7j2e9ww4— Kyler Murray (@K1) March 1, 2021
OK, so maybe they don't have a history, but they did take a picture together once. Although Watt isn't tight with Murray just yet, he is close with DeAndre Hopkins, who helped recruit the three-time Defensive Player of the Year to Arizona.
Apparently, DeAndre Hopkins is as good at recruiting as he is at receiving #Cardinals #JJWatt https://t.co/iaTGbMhZcI pic.twitter.com/Q9de0Y3DbJ— John Breech (@johnbreech) March 1, 2021
Forget his receiving skills, the Cardinals should be paying Hopkins for his recruiting skills.
5. Watt gets to play the Texans
J.J. Watt probably won't ever admit it, but you have to think that getting a chance to beat up on the Texans probably factored at least slightly into his decision. Although the Cardinals only get to play the Texans once every four years, the good news for Watt is that the next meeting between the two teams will come in 2021 in Arizona. So Watt gets to go to a contender, he gets to play for a coach he's familiar with, he's going to get paid a lot of money and he gets to beat up on his old team. Seems like a win-win-win-win for him.