A year after letting a future Hall of Famer walk out the door, the Patriots have a chance to bring in another.
The Houston Texans granted defensive end J.J. Watt’s request to be released Friday, 10 years after taking him in the first round of the NFL Draft. Watt has racked up 101 career sacks and three NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards, but his relationship with the Texans fell apart after the team traded key stars and finished the 2020 season 4-12.
Now a free agent, Watt has his choice of where to go next.
New England ranks near the top of the league with roughly $65 million in expected cap space this offseason, giving it a financial leg up on Watt’s other options. According to BetOnline, the Patriots are tied for the 6th-best odds to land Watt at 12-to-1.
The Steelers, Buccaneers, Ravens, Packers and Cowboys and Football Team have better odds to sign Watt than the Patriots, but only Tampa Bay joins New England in having more than $20 million in cap space.
Watt started all 16 games in each of his first five seasons in the NFL, but he has missed 32 out of a possible 80 games in the five campaigns since. The edge rusher has suffered major injuries to his knee, pectoral, tibia, finger, back and elbow over the years.
Coach Bill Belichick was asked about Watt’s effectiveness at 31 years old ahead of the Patriots’ Week 11 matchup with the Texans this season, and he praised the lineman’s experience over everything else.
“Obviously he has a lot of skill, he’s long, he’s strong, powerful, very quick,” Belichick said. “But his experience and anticipation is outstanding, and going up against (rookie offensive lineman Michael Onwenu) – who doesn’t have as much (experience) as J.J. does and hasn’t played against him – you really have to be mindful of the tricks J.J. has up his sleeve.”
Watt finished that game with a tackle for loss and three pass deflections.
The second leading active NFL sacker may have another trick up his sleeve this offseason, and there is a chance that trick lands him in Foxboro.