Congratulations are in order for the Houston Texans. Not a lot has gone right for the franchise in the past 12 months, but if nothing else, they made the right move in making J.J. Watt the highest-paid defensive player in league history. According to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, Watt, whose old deal carried him through the 2015 season, will now earn $100 million through the 2021 season, with $51.8 million of that contract being guaranteed. That figure is much more important than the yearly salary of just under $17 million, as it is not uncommon for teams and players to restructure deals later in their careers to free up cap space.
Watt, just 25, has been an impact defender since his arrival in Houston via the 11th pick of the 2011 NFL draft. In his rookie year, he broke onto the scene with 61 tackles, 5.5 sacks, four batted passes, two fumble recoveries, nine tackles for loss, nine batted passes and a blocked kick. He exploded in 2012 on his way to the Defensive Player of the Year award following a campaign that saw him record 81 tackles, 20.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, 23 TFL’s, and 16 batted passes. 2013 proved that Watt’s 2012 was no fluke, as he again cracked double-digit sacks (10.5) and TFL’s (15), recorded 80 tackles, forced four fumbles while recovering two, deflected a flurry of passes (seven), and blocked two more kicks. What’s even more impressive? Watt has not missed a single game at the NFL level.
Looking beyond the boxscore, why else does a team bet on J.J. just three years into his career? Well to get an idea of what kind of competitor he is, there’s this video of a devastated Watt, gritting out one of the more emotional press conferences you’ll see following his Wisconsin Badgers’ two-point loss to TCU in the 2011 Rose Bowl. It wasn’t sour grapes and there were no excuses made, just the utter frustration with the fact they came up short. That’s the kind of accountability and emotional intensity you look for in a franchise player.
Despite his youth, the man is one of the most mature players in the game. In addition to outworking and out performing any and all opponents, he delivered immediately on his pre-draft promise to bring his charity, a program dedicated to raising money for elementary and middle school athletic programs that are facing cuts due to hard economic times, to whatever team’s state he was drafted to.
When asked earlier in the off season if he’d consider holding out during training camp for more money, Watt had this to say:
“That would cause me to miss time with my teammates,” Watt said. “Right now, I want to practice. I want to be out here with these young guys. I want to teach them things that I know. I want to better myself. And it hasn’t really come to that. I want to be a Houston Texan. I want to play football, I want to be the best I can be. I can’t do that by sitting on my couch. I want to come out here and help my team.” -ESPN.com
That pleasant breeze you may be experiencing is the breathe of fresh air this league has been missing in a summer full of DUI’s and domestic violence. Keep on keeping on Mr. Watt; you’ve earned every second of it.
Tim Mullhaupt (@TimakaHines) is the editor of The Buckets Blog and a senior broadcast and mass communications major at SUNY Oswego. He has previously worked for SB Nation, WFAN and the NYCBL.