The Texans and J.J. Watt agreed to part ways on Friday, and not surprisingly, fans are already picturing what the 8-time All-Pro would look like in a Packers’ uniform. I have no idea whether GM Brian Gutekunst will be interested in the 31-year-old defensive end, but as with every available free agent, there are pros and cons.
1) He’s a very good player. He may no longer be the unblockable force he was a few years ago, but he’s still a tough matchup for most offensive linemen – especially in the run game. And while he had only 5 sacks last season, his 48 pressures would’ve been second to Za’Darius Smith on the Packers.
2) He would add a presence to a defense that could use its own Aaron Rodgers. He would hold every player on that side of the ball accountable – much like Reggie White did when he joined the Packers in 1993. He’d also bring toughness to a defense that has been rightly criticized for being too soft in recent seasons.
3) He would make everybody around him better, including new defensive coordinator Joe Barry. Just imagine a pass rush of Watt, Smith, Kenny Clark, and Rashan Gary. Talk about making life a lot easier for the corners. And young inside linebackers Krys Barnes and Kamal Martin would also benefit from Watt’s addition.
1) He won’t command top dollar at his age, but he’s not going to be cheap. This could be a problem for a team that’s currently almost $30M above the salary cap. And while the Packers could create enough room for Watt, it would almost certainly mean releasing even more veterans and restructuring even more contracts.
2) While he played over 1,000 snaps in two of the past three seasons, he’s missed 32 games and undergone multiple back surgeries since 2016. That’s what makes him most different from White, who was only 10 months younger when he famously joined the Packers, but who had a much cleaner medical history.
3) His pressures dropped from 1 in every 6.5 rushes in 2019 to 1 in every 13 rushes in 2020. Whether that was just an anomaly or the beginning of a trend is something the Packers’ front office is going to have to figure out. From my untrained eye, he didn’t look quite as twitchy or quite as explosive off the ball last season.
I’m not usually a fan of spending big money on a player in his early 30s, but Watt isn’t a typical player in his early 30s. Not only is he still one of the top-10 defensive ends in the league, but I think he could have a Reggie-type impact on the entire organization. That’s the kind of presence he’d bring both on and off the field.
Would signing Watt be risky? Sure, but maybe the Packers need to take a few risks before the Rodgers era ends. Signing Watt would be atypical for Gutekunst, who’s played it pretty safe since being hired as GM in 2018, but it might be the one thing he could do this offseason to finally get the Packers back to the Super Bowl.