GREEN BAY, Wis. – There’s a lot of work to be done financially but the Green Bay Packers are one of the teams interested in signing former Houston Texans All-Pro J.J. Watt.
On Friday, ESPN.com’s Ed Werder reported “approximately a dozen teams have shown interest” in Watt. A league source told Packer Central that Green Bay is one of those teams.
The Packers’ interest isn’t surprising. Even with his 32nd birthday approaching, Watt, in the estimation of one team’s pro scout, is the type of player who could put his new team “over the top.” The Packers, coming off back-to-back losses in NFC Championship Games, are one of the top teams in the NFL. And while he hasn’t always made the move, general manager Brian Gutekunst has made it a point to at least explore possibilities such as this one.
Given Watt’s history of dominant play and his Wisconsin ties – he’s from Pewaukee, starred at the University of Wisconsin and admittedly was “emotional” before the Packers-Texans joint practices in 2019 – there presumably will be mutual interest. In a world without COVID-19 and where the salary cap would have gone up by $10 million rather than down by more than $15 million, making a competitive offer would have been relatively simple.
However, Gutekunst and executive vice president/director of football operations Russ Ball will face an enormous challenge just to get the team beneath the salary cap by the start of the league-year on March 17.
They made one big move on that path this week in restructuring All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari’s contract extension. According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the Packers created $8.3 million of cap space by converting roster bonus into signing bonus.
Even before Watt became available, more of those types of accounting moves would have been necessary to get under the COVID-impacted salary cap. The Packers remain about $19.9 million over a projected cap of $180.5 million, according to OverTheCap.com. While there is optimism the final cap figure will be more than $180.5 million, the Packers have the seventh-worst cap situation in the league, according to OverTheCap, though they’re at least in better shape than the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are the betting favorite to land Watt because of the presence of brothers T.J. Watt and Derek Watt.
Even with limited cap space throughout the league, Watt will be highly coveted. He is a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and a member of the all-2010s team. In 10 NFL seasons, he has 101 sacks.
The downside is Watt will turn 32 on March 22 and isn’t the same player who led the NFL with 20.5 sacks in 2012 and 17.5 sacks in 2015, and added 16 sacks and a league-high seven forced fumbles in 2018. Watt missed a combined 32 games in 2016, 2017 and 2019. In 2020, he started all 16 games but had just five sacks. However, he also faced more double-teams than any edge defender in the league.
Adding Watt to a defensive front that features defensive tackle Kenny Clark and outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith could make new coordinator Joe Barry’s defense one of the most formidable in the NFL.
“I see a big, explosive, disruptive player that if given the opportunity will wreck the game,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said before this year’s game. “You saw he had a sack-fumble last week versus the Titans. He had about three or four plays where he was in the backfield on some run plays for TFLs. So, there’s a reason he’s won the defensive MVP before, because he’s a damn good player. He’s one of the premier players in this league.”