A potential Wisconsin homecoming for All-Pro defensive lineman J.J. Watt might not be as far-fetched as once believed.
According to Sports Illustrated’s Texans Daily, a source close to Watt’s situation said the “most likely” scenario is for the 31-year-old free agent to sign with Green Bay Packers this offseason after he mutually parted ways with the Houston Texans on Feb. 12. This comes after SI insider Bill Huber reported that Green Bay was among “approximately a dozen teams” that showed initial interest in signing Watt.
Watt has spent the past 10 seasons as a premier force for Houston’s defensive line and, despite some injury concerns over the back half of his Texans career, would make for a formidable addition to the Packers’ defensive front. The five-time All-Pro also has hometown roots in Wisconsin, having been born and raised in Pewaukee and playing college ball for the Badgers in Madison before becoming a 2011 first-rounder.
The Packers have some financial difficulties to figure out for the 2021 offseason before the possibility of signing Watt could become real. Even after restructuring All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari’s contract extension over the weekend — and creating about $8.3 million in 2021 cap space — the Packers are still about $21 million over the projected $180.5 million salary cap and will need to continue finding ways to get under before the new league year begins on March 17.
And yet, if Watt is motivated to return home and also willing to settle for less money than he could get from a competitive free-agent market, the Packers could find themselves making a major splash this offseason.
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Packers Have Other Lures for Watt
It should come as no surprise that Watt is getting attention from about a third of the league given his credentials as a highly-decorated veteran leader. He has started 128 games over the past decade for the Texans and consistently proven to be a top-notch run stopper and pass rusher, including during last year’s swan song in Houston.
The mystery now is what Watt — who will be 32 in March and has never seen beyond the divisional round of the NFL playoffs — will want out of his second team. Reasonably, he can be expected to join a team capable of contending in 2021, but how much of a role will money play in his decision? Will he demand a high-dollar contract to seal the deal or could a team with less money but more intangibles, like Green Bay, win him over?
The Packers don’t just have a homecoming to offer Watt. They are legitimate Super Bowl contenders for the 2021 season after finishing a combined 26-6 over the past two seasons and making back-to-back appearances in the NFC Championship Game. They can also put Watt alongside several other talented pieces, including defensive linemen Kenny Clark and Kingsley Keke and outside linebackers Za’Darius Smith and Rashan Gary.
If team culture is important to Watt — and it very well could be considering how demoralizing his final years with the Texans were — Green Bay may have another leg-up on the competition. Matt LaFleur has helped foster a championship environment in his two years as head coach, one that has allowed the players to keep things upbeat and fun while reacquiring the franchise’s standard of excellence.