We won't be seeing J.J. Watt anymore this season. According to a report from ESPN's Adam Schefter, Watt underwent back surgery on Thursday and he is expected to miss the rest of the year.
Texans' Pro Bowl DE J.J. Watt underwent back surgery today and it is expected to be a season-ending procedure, per league source.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 30, 2016
Watt had surgery on a herniated disc in his back this offseason but still somehow made it back for Week 1. He re-injured the back early this season and the Texans had placed him on Injured Reserve on Wednesday. There was initially speculation he might return in December, but that is apparently no longer the case.
Watt has won three NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards -- including the past two -- and has been the consensus best defensive player in football for some time now. As we noted on Wednesday, the Texans signed defensive end Antonio Smith to take Watt's spot on the roster and presumably in the lineup. Smith cannot possibly be expected to replicate Watt's impact, and it will be up to the collective defensive front to make up for his absence.
The Texans will now have to count more on their offense, which has struggled so far in the young season. Houston ranks 24th in total yards and tied for 31st in points, as well as last in Football Outsiders' offensive DVOA (which adjusts performance for down, distance, and opponent). Brock Osweiler has not yet shown what the Texans were hoping for when they signed him to a big deal this off-season, Lamar Miller has largely been held in check, and the receivers have made big plays but haven't been entirely consistent. That will have to change if the Texans want to make a playoff run.
As we also wrote on Wednesday, the injury and subsequent surgery also raise concerns about what Watt will look like over the rest of his NFL career.
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.
Watt has vowed to come back as strong as ever, and there's no doubt he'll work hard to get back to that point, but back injuries are not necessarily something even the best and toughest of players can merely will their way through.
It's here that we should note that Watt is in the first season of a six-year, $100 million contract extension that keeps him with the Texans through the 2021 season. It's basically impossible to imagine Houston wanting to cut ties with Watt anytime soon, but if the Texans did, the first time it would save them money on the salary cap is in 2018, when they could cut $9 million off the books by letting him go. Barring a total inability to play or a complete collapse of his on-field productivity, though, it's hard to imagine that actually happening.