The J.J. Watt era in Houston has come to an end. On Friday, the Texans released the former franchise cornerstone pass rusher after he spent the last decade in with the organization, as first reported by Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network. Watt, 31, later confirmed the news of his release in a video posted on social media and noted that he asked the McNair family to be let go and the two sides then mutually agreed to part ways.
"I'm excited and looking forward to a new opportunity," Watt said after highlighting his love and appreciation for the city of Houston. "I've been working extremely hard, but at the same time, it's always tough to move on. I just want you guys to know that I love you and I appreciate you. I appreciate the McNair family for drafting me and giving me my first opportunity in the NFL. Thank you, Houston. I love you."
"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 owner Cal McNair in a statement released by the team. "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.' For now, we will build upon the foundation that J.J. created here and forge ahead with our unwavering mission to bring a championship to our city, create memorable experiences for our fans and do great things for Houston."
By releasing Watt, the Texans save $17.5 million in cash and off their salary cap for 2021. Meanwhile, Watt is now free to sign with any team that will have him and can sign immediately. He does not have to wait until the start of free agency and the new league year in mid-March, giving him a leg up to find his next destination in the NFL. Given his talent, he likely won't be lacking for suitors either.
Watt has spent his entire career with the Texans after the club selected him with the No. 11 overall pick out of Wisconsin back at the 2011 NFL Draft. From that point, Watt became one of the best defensive players that the league had to offer over the last decade, winning NFL Defensive Player of the Year three times. The two-time NFL sack leader, who has over 100 sacks to his name over his career, was also a unanimous selection for the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 2010s.
In 16 games this past season, Watt totaled 52 tackles, 17 quarterback hits, five tacks and two forced fumbles along with an interception. While he may no longer be the generational pass rusher we saw during the early stages of his career when he totaled 20.5 sacks twice in his first four seasons, Watt clearly still has enough talent in the tank to be a force along a club's front seven. Where will that be? We'll soon find out.