There has been no shortage of platitudes sent in the direction of Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt since his signing in early March.
The mutual admiration has continued as the team hit the field for OTAs last week and this week’s minicamp. His attitude can be easily seen even with workouts only in shorts and helmets.
Head coach Kliff Kingsbury and teammates highlight his obvious leadership and passion for the game. Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, his teammate in Houston for seven seasons, described the “tenacity” he can bring to the defense and the entire team.
There is a boyish enthusiasm about Watt as he works — with the hoped-for result that young players will watch him and think, “That's the way it should be done.”
There is no argument that what Watt brings to the Cardinals on and off the field can only be positive. The question, of course, is how much that will translate to success in one of the toughest divisions in the NFL: The NFC West
That degree of difficulty is virtually the opposite of what Watt experienced in his 10 seasons with the Texans, playing in one of the worst AFC divisions.
Consider that the AFC South had the fewest cumulative victories in the AFC in six of those 10 seasons and only one where the division had the most wins. Contrast that to the NFC West, which had the most total wins of any NFC division in those same 10 seasons four times and were second three times. They had the fewest wins only twice.
Nine times, the NFC West won at least 30 games while that happened in the AFC South only three times. Total wins in the NFC West in the 10 seasons was 339 compared to 281 in the AFC South.
Yes, the Texans were in the playoffs six times, but it happened twice with 9-7 records. They won one postseason game four times, but never won two. Of those four victories, two were over Cincinnati, one over Buffalo and one over the Raiders in the season where quarterback Derek Carr was injured in the regular-season finale.
So, yes, hail, hail the arrival of Watt to the Valley. But also understand it will take a lot more than that for the Cardinals to meet the expectations of the fan base and themselves.
They can say “the sky’s the limit” ad infinitum, but the Red Sea will be hard-pressed to settle simply for a record better than .500 and a treasured spot in the championship chase.