The Move That Unexpectedly Hindered the Titans' Pursuit of Watt

Releasing Johnathan Joseph last November helped the high-profile free agent gain insight into his new team, the Arizona Cardinals.

In a way, the Tennessee Titans have no one to blame but themselves for their unsuccessful attempt to sign free agent J.J. Watt.

One of the game’s most prolific pass rushers agreed to a two-year contract with the Arizona Cardinals on Monday, more than two weeks after the Houston Texans released him.

The Titans made no secret of their interest in Watt, who has 101 career sacks in 128 games played, and they reportedly made a competitive offer to the 31-year-old (he will turn 32 this month), three-time Defensive Player of the Year.

However, it was a move they made back in early November that ultimately worked against them in their pursuit of the elite pass rusher. They released cornerback Johnathan Joseph two days after a Nov. 1 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. The Cardinals subsequently signed Joseph, who spent the rest of the season with them and recently spoke to Watt about his experience. The two were teammates for nine seasons with the Texans (2011-19).

“Obviously I spent time in Arizona, so you know me and him had a long conversation about that. … I kinda had an idea all along where he was probably going to end up going,” Joseph said on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “Just from the conversation that me and him had and just knowing the situation they have there with a young team on offense that has playmakers. Defense, the same thing.”

Joseph played seven games (six starts) for the Titans in 2020 and was credited with 29 tackles, five passes defensed, one interception and one forced fumble. He made three tackles and broke up one pass in four games with Arizona before he ended the season on injured reserve.

At 36 years old (he will be 37 next month), he is set to become a free agent and there is some question about whether he has reached the end of the line as a player.

If that is the case, it seems he will have a future as a salesman. After all, Joseph was instrumental in Jadeveon Clowney’s decision to sign with the Titans last September. Clowney’s search for a team was one of the biggest storylines of the 2020 offseason, and he finally settled on a one-year deal with Tennessee days before the regular-season opener at Denver.

That, of course, did not work out so well for the Titans. Clowney, a former teammate of Joseph and Watt in Houston, played in eight of the first nine games and did not record a quarterback sack before he underwent season-ending knee surgery. Tennessee’s defense finished with 19 sacks, fewer than all but two of the league’s other 31 teams, which is part of the reason they wanted to add Watt once he became available.