Watt spent his first 10 seasons in Houston before the Texans agreed to release the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year amid a franchise overall, allowing him to sign a two-year deal with the Arizona Cardinals in March.
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The deal reunited Watt with his longtime Texans teammate DeAndre Hopkins, who was traded to the Cardinals one year earlier for running back David Johnson and a second-round draft pick in one of several questionable moves by then-Texans coach/general manager Bill O’Brien.
O’Brien was fired four games into the 2020 season, Watt’s final year with the Texans.
“It’s not the same team,” Watt told reporters as the Cardinals prepare to host the Texans at State Farm Stadium on Sunday, October 24. “It’s not the same organization that I remember and that I was a part of.”
The Texans were a playoff team in six of Watt’s 10 seasons in Houston, most recently in 2019 when they lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional round.
“I was there for the best moments the organization’s ever had,” Watt said, “winning our first playoff game, winning the division for the first time, doing things that place had never done before.”
Wins have been hard to come by for the Texans since that 2019 playoff run. Houston was just 4-12 in 2020 and has stumbled to a 1-5 start this season. The Texans enter their Week 7 matchup with the 6-0 Cardinals as 17.5-point underdogs, according to BetMGM.
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‘There Should Be Some Emotion’
Watt said it’s been hard to watch the Texans struggle, mainly because of his affection for the city and the fans who supported him throughout his time there.
“I will always have massive love and respect for the fans in Houston and the city of Houston because of everything they gave to me and how much I cherished my time there,” he said.
Despite his personal connection to the Texans and their fans, once the game is underway, Watt said he expects it to be “just another game” for a team committed to getting “one week better.”
Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said that’s the approach he’s hoping both Watt and Hopkins take in their first game against their former team.
“I would hope those two guys, as veterans, just see it as the next game,” said Joseph, the Cardinals’ acting head coach until Kliff Kingsbury, who tested positive for COVID-19 on October 15, is cleared to return.
“They’re human and they were both drafted there, so there should be some emotion,” he said. “But hopefully it’s about the team first, about the Cardinals.”
Veteran receiver A.J. Green said the Cardinals view the Texans as “just another team in our way.”
“Those two guys, J.J. and Hop, they did a lot for that franchise,” Green told reporters. “Emotionally, it will probably be a little crazy playing them.”
Added Watt: “It’s definitely different, but I don’t think I’m going to forget which guy I’m supposed to tackle.”