Uncertainty of salary cap could impact J.J. Watt’s head start on free agency

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Plenty of teams reportedly are interested in free-agent defensive lineman J.J. Watt. But it’s one thing to be interested and it’s quite another to start putting firm financial offers on the table.

With so much uncertainty surrounding the 2021 salary cap, the question becomes whether teams will start putting firm financial offers on the table for Watt before they know what the cap will be.

Chiefs owner Clark Hunt, chair of the league’s finance committee, has said that the salary cap may not be finalized until a few hours before the start of the new league year. It can’t be lower than $175 million. Some think it will be in the range of $180 million. Some think the NFL wants to finalize new TV deals by then in order to move some money around and push it even higher.

How can any team make a firm commitment to Watt — who falls in the broad gulf between superstar and player operating under a rookie deal — without knowing what the cap will be? Someone may want him badly enough to roll the dice with their best guess. But that will be a calculated risk.

The same mindset applies to plenty of other veterans who are either available or whose contracts are expiring. How can, for example, the Buccaneers have meaningful negotiations with players like linebacker Lavonte David and receiver Chris Godwin (among others) without knowing what the cap will be?

The safest move could be to assume that it will be $180 million, and if it’s any higher then the excess should be treated as found money. But if the assumption lands at $180 million, that will mean less money for Watt than what he could get if it comes in higher.

So, basically, his 33-day head start on free agency may not ultimately mean all that much, if teams don’t have a clear and firm understanding as to what the cap will be.

41 responses to “Uncertainty of salary cap could impact J.J. Watt’s head start on free agency

  1. I think you are being slightly naive if you think teams won’t know what the cap is going to be long before they announce it.

  2. The obvious answer is to sign a multi year deal with huge signing bonus money that pushes the “CAP” hit into the latter years of the deal.

    JJ will not lose any money & teams won’t be hindered from negotiating with him.

  3. $175M or $180M. It doesn’t make that much difference for the purpose of signing Watt.
    If you have significant cap room you can sign him. If you don’t you either make room or move on.

  4. Being on the downside of his career and considering his availability for games, I would not expect any team to offer him big $.

  5. J.J. Watt is not chasing $$$$. He wants damn Super Bowl ring and no amount of money is going to stop him from going either to whom he wants to play for or thinks gives him the best chance to win one. (Ask those Jets players making big money how much fun they are having)? Losing get old real quick.

  6. We’re assuming Watt’s price tag is pretty high. Not sure that’s accurate! Doesn’t need money, has multiple endorsements. I suspect he’s looking to play for a contender at a fair price. Just my guess…

  7. Green Bay, KC, and Pittsburgh would love to add Watt but don’t (currently) have the cap space.
    Seattle may have the greatest need for pass rushers and would be a great spot to push them back into Super Bowl contention.
    Cleveland has the cap space and Watt could be the right vet on the field and in the locker room that could finally get them to the Super Bowl.
    But I think Buffalo would be the best place for Watt. He could be the missing piece that gets them past KC.

  8. Unless Bill belechick finds a quarterback i don’t know if the Patriots are ‘contenders’. I still think he’s a great coach/gm-but years having low ranking draft choices finally caught up to the Patriots. If Brady had stayed i still think they would have had a bad year.

    Tampa Bay had years of relatively high draft picks. They just needed a quarterback.

  9. Whatever the cap is in 2021 won’t play much into signing JJ Watt. A team would simply backload JJ’s contract and thus still be well under the 2021 cap. 2021 is the ONLY year the cap will be lower.

  10. maximusintoxicus says:
    February 13, 2021 at 12:37 pm
    J.J. Watt is not chasing $$$$. He wants damn Super Bowl ring and no amount of money is going to stop him from going either to whom he wants to play for or thinks gives him the best chance to win one.

    I agree Watt will sign with a contender but don’t be naïve to think money won’t play a part of the decision.
    I’m sure Watt would love to play with his brother in Pittsburgh or return to Wisconsin and play for the Packers. But if those teams can only offer the minimum and teams like Seattle, Cleveland or Buffalo with cap space can offer a long term deal with a signing bonus I suspect he would take the big deal.
    This is Watts last opportunity to sign a big contract and it could still be with a team that can compete for a Super Bowl.

  11. The real question of value is whether you are getting the JJW of now (a very good player) or the JJW of a couple of years ago (a great player). If it is of a couple of years ago teams will find a way regardless of the salary cap. If it is today then yes the salary cap will come into play as well as how bad a team NEEDS him.

  12. He’s not a priority for anyone who’s paid attention to his availability and production over the last several years

  13. Watt won’t cost more than $10m a season. He wants a ring and has already made $100m in his career, so team fit means more than money. He’s going to start talking to the Chiefs, Bucs, and Packers (real contenders) and see what the average offer is. He’ll then look at the Titans, Rams, Steelers, and Seahawks (playoff teams that could contend). That’s the list. He’s not going to take a chance with a shaky organization like Cleveland or New York (both teams). He wants guaranteed playoff runs, so if he’s smart, sign 1yr deals and chase rings.

  14. Watt will be getting closer to vet minimum than a max if he wants to win. I don’t see him signing a big deal with a losing team.

  15. No defensive player is worth more than 10 mil per year in the salary cap era. The just completed Super Bowl showcased just how much a QB game the NFL is these days. One team had it and the other team did not.

  16. There are 12 teams over the salary cap right now, if it drops another 20 million, many more are going to be in cap hell.

    There will be a ton of good players cut because of cap problems.

    If you have some decent cap space, do you pick one or two high price players or do you load up with 5 or 6 improvements on your team?

    Will be interesting to see what way certain teams decide to go.

  17. ivotedfornixon says:
    February 13, 2021 at 12:47 pm
    Unless Bill belechick finds a quarterback i don’t know if the Patriots are ‘contenders’. I still think he’s a great coach/gm-but years having low ranking draft choices finally caught up to the Patriots. If Brady had stayed i still think they would have had a bad year.

    Tampa Bay had years of relatively high draft picks. They just needed a quarterback.

    And Tampa hit on a lot of their draft picks. I remember many years when Belichick traded out of the first. He preferred to have more 2nd and 3rd rounders. Many of those picks were busts.

  18. JJ Watt has earned over $100 million. Money isn’t an issue for him. He is still excellent but aging.
    If I were him I’d want to take a pay cut and play for a strong team.
    Give him a shot at a super bowl.

  19. iowahbr says:
    February 13, 2021 at 1:57 pm
    No defensive player is worth more than 10 mil per year in the salary cap era. The just completed Super Bowl showcased just how much a QB game the NFL is these days. One team had it and the other team did not.
    —————————————————————————————————
    Talking about the SB, tell me again how much Shaq Barrett played last season for. Here’s another name for you, Aaron Donald… mic drop

  20. I get the feeling that doesn’t matter to JJ. He probably has more than enough money. He’ll probably take a spot at the league minimum because he’s looking for a ring. If the Bucs don’t resign Suh they could make a run at him.

  21. CHawk12thMan says:

    February 13, 2021 at 12:25 pm

    The obvious answer is to sign a multi year deal with huge signing bonus money that pushes the “CAP” hit into the latter years of the deal.

    JJ will not lose any money & teams won’t be hindered from negotiating with him.
    ——-
    Well heres why your “obvious”splution doesnt work, a signing bonus cap hit is averaged over the life of the deal what your thinking of is a roster bonus which then there is a chance Watt loses money as he doesnt make it to whatever balloon payment they would put in next year.
    Also your not taking into account no one knows not only what the cap will look like next year but also when revenue/full stadiums will be back. Your assuming the following season which would put the team signing him into a big hole.

  22. I think the cap system needs to be reworked. This isn’t directed at Watt but with 53-54 man rosters, no one player should take up 25% of the total cap. Certainly some players deserve more than others but overpaying means you can’t field a complete team. There should be an individual cap/max sort of like basketball except not exceeding total cap space.

  23. I think a lot of these comments are being made by Houston Texans fans, because I don’t think J.J. Watt is going to command a huge salary on the open market. He’s 32 years old coming off of a unimpressive season and has a history of very very awful injuries. At this point, he’s a solid rotational lineman on a team with championship aspirations, or a starting defensive lineman on a bad team. I think he will get the typical 6-8 million av 2 year deal in free agency , possibly 10 from a bad team. That’s how I see it.

  24. Watt isn’t what he was 5 years ago, but he still gets double teamed on every play. Put him on a team that has someone to share the heat and he’ll get you 10+ sacks, knock down (and probably intercept) passes, and get quite a few behind the line hits.
    He’s said he wants to contend, and, unlike 99% of the rest or the NFL, he usually says what he means. I’d expect his top choices are TB, GB, and KC. Depending on the QB situation, I think Indy could be right up there. Maybe the Rams – Watt and Donald together would destroy most offensive game plans.
    Titans, Buffs, Ravens, and Browns fairly distant 2nd tier. Seattle’s Wilson situation is a huge red flag, same for Pitt and Ben, Brees, etc., in NOLA.
    I can’t really see anyone else Watt would seriously consider. Dallas or anyone in that division is a bad joke.

  25. iowahbr says:
    February 13, 2021 at 1:57 pm
    No defensive player is worth more than 10 mil per year in the salary cap era. The just completed Super Bowl showcased just how much a QB game the NFL is these days. One team had it and the other team did not.
    _________________________________

    OMG are you kiddin’ me? If that game showed anything it’s how valuable a great D is over what the QBs are getting, an elite QB like Mahomes COMPLETELY SHUT DOWN BY A GREAT DEFENSE!

    Offense sells tickets, defense wins Championships!

  26. J.J. has enough money. He just wants a ring. If you already have $100 million in the bank, would you rather play for the Jets for $25 million a year, or the Bucs for $10 million?

  27. packerfanwi1028 says:
    February 13, 2021 at 7:14 pm
    Green Bay loves you JJ
    _________________________

    You can have all the love for JJ in the world but at $28.2mil over the cap now you can’t afford him!

    How’s that Rodgers contract working out for ya?

  28. Cap friendly 2 or 3-year deal with a contender.
    I‘d love to see him with his brothers in Pittsburgh, but I don’t know if that’s his best option for a ring. I‘m also not sure if playing in Wisconsin with QB that doesn’t seem to be getting over the hump in championship games. If he goes north it might asvwell end up in Buffalo if he chases a ring.
    I also wouldn’t be too surprised to see him “retire“ in Florida if Shaq Barrett chases the money somewhere else.

  29. charliecharger says:
    February 13, 2021 at 8:03 pm
    J.J. has enough money. He just wants a ring. If you already have $100 million in the bank, would you rather play for the Jets for $25 million a year, or the Bucs for $10 million?
    _________________________

    $100mil in the bank, REALLY? Why do people always forget about this little thing called TAXES which is nearly 50% on these huge NFL contracts?

    BTW the high figure on JJ’s estimated net worth is $25mil, no where near the $100mil you claim he has in the bank!

  30. Cap friendly 2 or 3-year deal with a contender. I‘d love to see him with his brothers in Pittsburgh, but I don’t know if that’s his best option for a ring. I‘m also not sure if playing in Wisconsin with QB that doesn’t seem to be getting over the hump in championship games is the solution for him. If he goes north he might as well end up in Buffalo if he chases a ring. I also wouldn’t be too surprised to see him “retire“ in Florida if Shaq Barrett chases the money somewhere else.

  31. I wouldn’t pay him alot of money. Even in his prime he racked up all his sacks vs the bad teams. When Brady was on the Patriots, he sacked Tom Brady 0 times

  32. Shaq Barrett made $15+ last year and wants to break bank (tough time to do that). Smart play if trying to win in 2021 will be to pick up a number of bets who get cut due to high salaries (a lot of them will if they want to keep playing). Another wild card will be all they guys who opted out. Sit out a year and many will never be the same players again.

  33. Years ago there was a big time free agent defensive lineman. He was one of the best players in the game. He signed with a team, and led that team to the super bowl. Now, years later that same team is in need of a similar player who can lead them back to the super bowl. The guy I’m talking about is Reggie White, and the team is Green Bay.

  34. I’m sure someone on the league side or the NFLPA side has already thought of this but why don’t they just keep it artificially high and essentially borrow off of future years?

    If it’s going to drop by say 20 million keep it the same 198 million it is now. Then when in 2022 if it’s supposed to go up 7 million have it only go 2. In 2023 if it’s supposed to go up 11 million have go up 6 million. I would imagine they can make some deal on the time frame, amount per year borrowed against, etc.

  35. Steve Cunningham says:
    February 13, 2021 at 8:15 pm
    charliecharger says:
    February 13, 2021 at 8:03 pm
    J.J. has enough money. He just wants a ring. If you already have $100 million in the bank, would you rather play for the Jets for $25 million a year, or the Bucs for $10 million?
    _________________________

    $100mil in the bank, REALLY? Why do people always forget about this little thing called TAXES which is nearly 50% on these huge NFL contracts?

    BTW the high figure on JJ’s estimated net worth is $25mil, no where near the $100mil you claim he has in the bank!

    ———————-
    Current net worth is $50 million! the advantage of living in a state with zero income tax – – like Florida.

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