Texans could have squatted on J.J. Watt for more than a month, but didn’t

USA TODAY Sports

Earlier today, in the aftermath of the news that Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt requested his release and got it, I made a factually accurate observation on Twitter: Quarterback Deshaun Watson has asked to be traded, and his request hasn’t been granted; Watt asked to be released, and the team immediately complied.

Obviously, the situations are very different. Watson is ascending, Watt is descending. Watson is 25, Watt is nearly 32. The Texans weren’t going to pay Watt $17.5 million in 2021, the Texans just signed Watson to a long-term deal less than six months ago. Many responded to the tweet (some politely, some less than politely) by making that observation.

There’s a nuanced point lurking in the comparison. The Texans had absolutely no obligation to release Watt today, more than a month before the start of the new league year. They could have cut him on March 17, just before 4:00 p.m. ET. They didn’t. He asked to be released, and they quickly gave him what he wanted.

The Texans also could have tried to trade Watt. It would have required Watt to reduce his salary dramatically, but the Texans could have at least attempted to do it. By letting Watt’s agent shop the player and determine what a team would give the Texans for Watt and what a team would pay Watt, it’s possible that the Texans could have gotten something/anything for Watt.

It wouldn’t have been easy, but the Texans could have tried. Last year, for example, the Panthers held the contract of quarterback Cam Newton (drafted the same year as Watt) while trying to trade Newton. It was unlikely that the Panthers would have gotten anything for Newton, and they didn’t. But they still tried, holding his contract and preventing Newton from getting to the market as quickly as possible.

The Texans, put simply, did Watt a favor. They extended him a gratuity. He asked for a head start on the open market. He got what he wanted. Quickly, cleanly, and without any resistance.

Yes, the Texans ultimately would have cut Watt on March 17 absent an unlikely trade agreement. By rule, they had every right to wait until then. The point is that they partially waived their rights as a favor to Watt. Will they be waiving any of their rights as to Watson, who like Watt would like to move on?

That’s the real point. Teams have plenty of discretion when it comes to their contractual rights. The Texans exercised discretion to do Watt a favor. The Texans have shown no inclination to exercise their discretion to do Watson, who like Watt would like to continue his career with another team, any favors at all.

They don’t have to. They’re not required to. Just like they weren’t required to do it with Watt.

17 responses to “Texans could have squatted on J.J. Watt for more than a month, but didn’t

  1. Maybe because he was a man about it and went to speak with the owners instead of dropping tweets and videos about it like a coward.

  2. even though Watt is on the downside of his career, he could have been traded. The Texans wouldn’t have gotten much, but anything is better than nothing.

    Watson must be fuming.

  3. The contentions you’ve detailed here presuppose anyone in the Texans front office knows what the hell they’re doing.

  4. ‘the Texans just signed Watson to a long-term deal less than six months ago‘

    So Watson was happy when money was on the table.

  5. As you point out, Watt was going to get cut if he didn’t restructure. He had earned the majority of his signing bonus. Contrast that with Watson who just got a $27 million signing bonus. If the team releases him they get none of that money back but do get to eat it in cap space. The Texans would have to be dumber than they’ve been to this point – a well with no bottom – to cut Watson for performance as well as financial reasons.

  6. The Panthers did the league a favor sitting on Cam…saved one lucky team from wasting a lot of cap space.

  7. Trying to trade Watt wouldve been a waste of time simply put with his age, injury history and salary he has zero value in a trade. Watson on the other hand has maybe the most value in league history in trade value. A top 5 QB in his prime on the block? Its unheard of. If Watt was younger they wouldn’t have extended the courtesy of releasing him, nor should they have. Releasing Watson just to help him with a head start finding a team would be the dumbest move in history Although if any team would ever do that…it would be them. Watson WILL fetch them 3 #1’s and maybe more. Watt, zero value. He’ll be in Pitts within 5 days.

  8. I’m sure the Texans will be happy to give Watson the same courtesy when he is on the downside of his career. I’m also sure if Watt made this request when he was 25 he’d be getting the same result Watson is currently getting

  9. Cutting Watson is not an option, but trading him makes sense. No team wants disgruntled players creating a toxic environment in the locker room. That is a recipe for failure.

    I wonder why Watson signed that big contract and then started to complain. If he was promised to have input on the new GM and head coach, it at least makes a little sense. If the Texans made promises that made Watson want to sign, then failed to follow through with those promises, then I understand Watson’s frustration.

    Having said that, I blame the Texans if they made such promises. Players should NOT be making decisions regarding coaches and GMs. They can offer their opinions, but that’s as far as it should go.

    This all goes back to the owner, McNair. He’s been in the lead of the Texans hot mess for years now.

  10. They would not have to cut him on March 17th, neither. His contract has only cash left. Texans could have waited and waited and waited if they chose. Would have been silly on Houston’s part though, as they would not have the $17.5mil freed up in cap space to use elsewhere…

  11. Classy Move by the Texans to grant Watt his release. I think a lot of teams would have tried to trade him or hold onto him.

  12. So because the Texans gave Watt what he wanted and didn’t give in to Watson then the underlying reason is what? Stir the pot much? The Texans are currently $13M over the projected cap. They were likely to cut Watt anyway. Comparing those two situations is ridiculous.

    I doubt they could have traded him for much due to his salary ($17.5M), age, and injury history. Who knows, maybe they already tried to trade him but no team met their asking price. I would compare Watt to what Dwight Freeney did when he left Indy. He was still a good pass rusher…he just wasn’t an every down player anymore. Watt might be better to just bring in for passing situations. My guess is he’ll sign with a good team (which definitely doesn’t describe the Texans) that can use a good pass rusher. Watt can still play. He’s not likely to get anywhere close to the $17.5M he would have been paid this year–even though he wasn’t going to make that this year anyway.

  13. Watt should join the Titans. Good grass field, a team in desperate need of a pass rush and Watt could get more rest in games with a clock moving running game.

  14. JJ Watt has been a class act and the team recognized that.
    They also gained credibility by doing this.
    Watt wouldn’t have brought in much (a 6th due to injury and age?) and they instead made a classy move.

    Good job Texans.

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