Houston Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt, who by most accounts has been the NFL's best defensive player over the last two seasons, agreed to terms on a six-year, $100 million contract extension with $51.8 million guaranteed. The extension makes Watt the highest-paid defensive player in league history, surpassing the six-year, $96 million deal with $50 million guaranteed given to ex-Texans defensive end Mario Williams by the Buffalo Bills in March, 2012. The news was initially reported by the Houston Chronicle's John McClain and ESPN's Chris Mortensen.
“I will tell you this without talking about anything publicly, we have made it a practice to take care of all of our players that we consider to be core players," Texans general manager Rick Smith said on Aug. 21. "At the appropriate time, when we can do that as we’ve done before, we’ll do that with J.J. as well.”
NFL contracts are always full of funny money, but even on its face, the extension agreement is appropriate for a player of Watt's caliber. Selected 11th overall in the 2011 NFL draft out of Wisconsin, Watt quickly became the centerpiece of Houston's defense, racking up a league-leading 20.5 sacks in 2012, and following that up with 10.5 sacks last season. Watt's sack totals are even more impressive because he plays inside when the Texans go to their nickel and dime packages, is double-teamed nearly all the time, and therefore must pressure quarterbacks with sheer speed, skill and technique.
And though his sack totals decreased in 2013, Watt's value didn't deteriorate at all. He had 36 quarterback hits and 38 quarterback hurries last season, and led the league with 54 run stops. According to Football Outsiders' metrics, Watt was involved in 11.3 percent of his defense's plays, best in the league, and he finished among the league leaders in tipped passes and overall defeats. In other words, sacks aside, there was no other player responsible for more defensive plays, and certainly more negative offensive plays, than Watt has been over the last two seasons.
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A couple days before Smith's comments regarding his contract, Watt, who was scheduled to make $1.9 million in base salary in 2014, said, “I think when you look around the league and see a couple other guys from the 2011 draft class get contracts, I think it’s just nice to see the appreciation being shown. With the new CBA, I think one of the goals was to make guys earn their pay. No more big paydays upfront. Make guys go out there and play and show that they’ve earned it. So I think when a team gives a contract after the third year, I think they’re saying, ‘Listen, we think you’ve earned this.’ I don’t know if they feel that way or not but I sure hope I’ve put in all the work and I’ve put in everything I can do to hopefully earn it. I get paid to go after quarterbacks. There are people who get paid to decide how much I get paid to go after quarterbacks. I’ll let them all decide that. I can’t worry about it out here. All I can do is practice football.”
Watt could have made the argument that he was woefully underpaid in relation to his contributions (as most of the best rookies are, given the structures of first NFL contracts), but he said that he never thought of holding out.
“Because that would cause me to miss time with my teammates and right now I want to practice." he said. "I want to be out here with these young guys. I want to teach them the things that I know. I want to better myself. 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 and I can’t do that by sitting on my couch. So I want to come out here and practice and help the team.”
Watt has helped his team as must as any player in the NFL recently. And the Texans have now paid him back -- in spades.