Watt, who turns 32 in three weeks, was released last month by the Houston Texans and thus did not have to wait for the March 17 opening of the NFL’s free agent market to sign with a team.
The Cardinals had chased Watt quietly while speculation focused on teams such as the Pittsburgh Steelers, Tennessee Titans, Green Bay Packers, Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills. In Pittsburgh, Watt could have played with his brother T.J., who was edged out by Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald for the NFL’s defensive player of the year award this past season — to the dismay of J.J., who made his brother’s case publicly.
But J.J. Watt was recruited to Arizona by wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, his former teammate in Houston. Hopkins posted a photo to social media of himself and Watt hugging and both wearing Cardinals uniforms. Hopkins wrote, “Let’s finish what we started.”
Watt joins a contender. The Cardinals lost five of their final seven games and just missed the playoffs at 8-8. But they have gone from three to five to eight victories over the past three seasons and remain regarded as a team on the rise, with Coach Kliff Kingsbury and quarterback Kyler Murray about to enter their third season together.
Watt could team with Chandler Jones to form a potent pass-rushing duo in Arizona. Jones had only one sack while playing five games in an injury-shortened 2020 season, but he totaled 49 sacks in the three seasons before that.
The issue is how much production Watt can manage at this point in his career. He had a modest nine sacks over the past two seasons and has not been selected to the Pro Bowl since 2018. But he’s one of the best defensive players of his generation. The defensive end was a five-time Pro Bowl choice and a five-time all-pro in his 10 seasons with the Texans. He had 101 sacks and was named the league’s defensive player of the year in 2012, 2014 and 2015.
The Texans released him Feb. 12 at his request.
There could be an issue in Arizona with Watt’s uniform number. His No. 99 is a retired number for the Cardinals, according to the team. It was worn by Marshall Goldberg, a running back for the Chicago Cardinals in the late 1930s and 1940s who also served in the Navy during World War II.