GREEN BAY, Wis. – There are two versions of J.J. Watt.
The first is the five-time All-Pro who ranks fourth in NFL history in sacks per game.
The second is the player who has topped five sacks just once in the past five seasons.
In a COVID world in which 13 teams are over the projected and greatly diminished salary cap, Watt’s potential suitors are seeing that second version. Watt is being viewed with a buyer-beware tag, not the Walter Payton Man of the Year emblem on his jersey.
While ESPN.com’s Ed Werder reported “approximately a dozen teams” were interested in Watt and Packer Central reported the Packers were among those teams, Watt remains a free agent as of Monday night.
On Sunday, Watt chided a fan who asked if he was going to be signing. However, the reality is Watt is a free agent at about the worst time imaginable. In a normal year, the salary cap rises by at least $10 million. This year due to COVID, the cap could fall from $198.2 million in 2020 to $180 million in 2021. Age, injury history and the market are all working against a player with a total of nine sacks over 24 games the past two seasons.
“He’s not in a hurry because he’s not getting the offers he wants,” a source said.
Werder reported Watt’s priorities were a quarterback, supporting cast and money, in that order. However, the longer Watt remains a free agent, the less the chance he receives anything even in the ballpark of the $17.5 million he passed up by being granted his release from the Houston Texans 10 days ago.
At the time, a source believed Watt would get a contract worth in the neighborhood of $10 million to $12 million per season. That’s looking more and more unlikely, though, the source said.
Watt has been the big fish in the free agent pond for more than a week. With each day Watt remains a street free agent, it’s another day closer to the start of unrestricted free agency. The unrestricted free-agent negotiating period begins on March 15. At that point, the pond will be filled with a lot more fish. And many of those fish won’t be approaching their 32nd birthday and with three trips to injured reserve in his past five seasons.
If the Packers remain interested, Watt’s lingering free-agent status could obviously work in their favor. The Packers remain well over the salary cap but with ample maneuverability with a potential contract extension for receiver Davante Adams and contract renegotiation for Aaron Rodgers. If Watt wants to hit a certain number, he might have to bet on himself with an incentive-laden deal.
“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 at Houston. “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.”
The Cleveland Browns are the betting favorites at FanDuel to land Watt, followed by the Packers, Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers. Of those four teams, the Browns are the only team below the salary cap.