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J.J. Watt Contract: The Real Deal

The breakdown of the contract signed by Arizona Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt is different from what was originally reported.
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It took a few days, but the real numbers are now available on the contract defensive end J.J. Watt signed with the Cardinals.

Shockingly (not really), the structure is very different than the original reports circulated the day of the signing. It’s always “reader beware” when contracts are quickly reported. Agents are the source of those reports, and they want the stories to make them look as good as possible.

As refresher, the contract was initially said to be worth $31 million over two years with $23 million guaranteed. To be clear, those numbers aren’t inaccurate. They just fail to tell the whole story of the deal, which also includes a no-trade clause.

Technically, the contract Watt signed actually has a base value of $35.2 million over five years. For practical purposes, it is a two-year, $28 million base deal that has three years (2023-2025) at $2.4 million each year that automatically voids if he is on the roster on the final day of the 2022 league year. That enables the signing bonus to prorate over five years instead of two..

Of the $23 million guaranteed, $20 million is fully guaranteed at signing with the other $3 million guaranteed for injury only. That $3 million of his 2022 base salary becomes fully guaranteed in March, 2022, if he receive a $2.25 million roster bonus.

The $20 million guaranteed includes a $12 million signing bonus, $2.5 million base guarantee this year, $3.25 million of his $11.25 million 2022 base salary and a $2.25 million roster bonus in 2022.

The $31 million total for two years includes $3 million in incentives for sacks. If Watt has 10 or more sacks in 2021, he will earn a $1 million bonus and another $1 million will be added to his 2022 base salary. There is also a $1 million bonus in 2022 for 10 or more sacks.

Prorating his signing bonus creates a figure of $2.4 million per year as opposed to the $6 million it would have been on a two-year contract. That makes his 2021 cap charge $4.9 million accounting for the $2.5 million salary and bonus proration.

His current cap figure for 2022 in $15.9 million, but that could be lowered next year by converting a large portion of his base salary into a signing bonus and adding years to the deal, depending on the league and the Cardinals’ cap situation.