After indulging fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers with plausibility levels of the team acquiring quarterbacks Matthew Stafford and Deshaun Watson this offseason, I probably shouldn’t be surprised that I’ve now received a few emails asking me to do the same with Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, who many speculate will be on a different team in 2021. Okay, do you really want to know the plausibility of Watt landing in Pittsburgh with his two younger brothers? Well, here you go.
Which team is the best fit in a trade for J.J. Watt?
🔹 Bills pic.twitter.com/tVTOFfOXnr
— PFF (@PFF) February 1, 2021
For starters, for J.J. Watt to become a member of the Steelers in 2021 it certainly wouldn’t be a result of a trade. Why? First, the Steelers just aren’t going to give the Texans anything of substance related to a draft pick to acquire a soon-to-be 32-year-old player. Even if the Steelers were able to work out non-crippling trade compensation with the Texans, there’s no way they could afford the defensive ends $17.5 million base salary in 2021. Remember, this is a Steelers team that is currently more than $30 million over a 2021 salary cap number of $175 million as it is. Any extra cap space that the team is able to carve it will go toward re-signing one or two of their own unrestricted free agents.
Should the Texans not find a trade partner when it comes to Watt, something I just don’t foresee happening, they obviously would need to release him if the two sides believe that’s the best. The good news for the Texans is that releasing Watt would result in zero dead money for them. The Texans would then save $17.5 million in cap space by cutting or trading Watt this offseason. The good news for Watt, if ultimately cut by the Texans, is that he’s sure to have several suitors willing to sign him for one or more years for at least a third of the $17.5 million he was originally scheduled to make in 2021. At a minimum, Watt will earn roughly $5 million more than the Steelers can afford to pay him 2021.
Couldn’t the Steelers just sign J.J. Watt to a multi-year deal to keep his salary cap number low in 2021 and his earrings high? Sure, they could, but even a two or tow-year deal that averaged $6 million a season would still result in Watt having a 2021 cap number of at least $4.5 million, which again would be more than $3 million more than the team can accommodate. On top of that, the Steelers would be setting themselves up for more dead money in 2022 should they need to cut Watt in 2022.
But, but, Dave, what if J.J. Watt agreed to play for the minimum for the Steelers should the Texans wind up cutting him? Okay, for starters, it’s hard to imagine Watt turning down extra money just to be able to play on the same team with his brothers. That’s just not good business-sense no matter how much he’s earned so far as an NFL player. On top of that, Watt surely would want to play quite extensively in 2021 and he just would be able to do that in Pittsburgh with Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt installed as the team’s starters on the outside. The Steelers will likely restructure the contracts of both Heyward and Tuitt before March 17 and assuming that happens, you can bet they’re going to want both players to continue playing at least 75% of all defensive snaps in 2021. Watt would be relegated to just about 50 percent of all defensive snaps at the most.
Let’s also keep in mind that J.J. Watt is no spring chicken and that he’s missed 16 games in the last five seasons due to injuries. In three of those five seasons he failed to play more than eight games.
Look, I get the whole fascination from Steelers fans with J.J. Watt. Really, I do. He’s a great football player and a great human as well. Even at the age of 32 he still seemingly has some good football left in him and especially when it comes to just the 2021 season. All that said, the entire economics and dynamics of Watt being a member of the Steelers in 2021 just doesn’t jive. It’s just not plausible and especially in a 2021 season where he would be considered an extreme luxury for the team.
If the Steelers salary cap situation were better this offseason than it is currently, I could slightly entertain the idea of a third Watt landing in Pittsburgh with the other two. However, the reality of the team’s cap situation, combined with the current makeup of the team’s 2021 roster, screams that there’s no way that J.J. Watt will be a member of the Steelers this coming season.