Three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt and the Houston Texans are parting ways
J.J. Watt is leaving Houston.
The Pewaukee native and former Wisconsin Badgers star announced Friday that the Texans are releasing him after he and the team agreed to mutually part ways, ending a 10-year Hall of Fame run.
Watt, wearing a Wisconsin Badgers hoodie, broke the news Friday morning in a two-minute video posted on his Twitter account.
"I came here 10 years ago as a kid from Wisconsin who had never really been to Texas before and now, I can’t imagine my life without Texas in it," said Watt, who turns 32 in March.
Watt said he asked the McNair family, who own the team, for his release.
"Change is never easy, especially when it involves the ones you love," said Texans CEO and Chair Cal McNair. "J.J.'s impact on not only our organization, but the entire Houston community, is unlike any player in our franchise's history. I told J.J. earlier this week that we will forever consider him a Texan. We take solace in knowing that this is not a goodbye but a 'see you soon.'"
Watt, a defensive end, has spent his entire career with the Texans where he has been a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Watt was drafted as the 11th overall pick out of Wisconsin in 2011.
"The way you guys have treated me, besides draft night, you guys booed me on draft night," Watt said in the video, "every day after that you treated me like family. And I truly feel like you’re my family. Since that day, I have tried everything in my power to work and earn your respect and try to make you proud on and off the field."
Watt was the face of the franchise for an organization that had yet to make the postseason before he arrived. The Texans were founded in 2002 and only had one winning season in their first nine years.
But over the next decade, Houston made the playoffs in six seasons, including in J.J.'s first. However, the Texans have yet to make it out of the Divisional Round and were 4-6 in the playoffs during this time.
J.J. has been a dominant force since he arrived in the league, winning Defensive Player of the Year three times in his first five seasons (2012, 2014 and 2015). He is a five-time first-team All Pro and has led the league in sacks in two seasons. He recorded his 100th sack this season, putting him 31st on the all-time list. In 2014, Watt became the first player in NFL history to record two 20-plus sack seasons in a career. However, significant injuries during the 2016, 2017 and 2019 seasons cost him large portions of those seasons. Even so, he was a unanimous selection on the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 2010s.
Watt is also widely known for his off-the-field charitable work, most notably after Hurricane Harvey devastated the Houston area in 2017.
Watt raised $41.6 million for hurricane relief that fall. He initially sought to raise $200,000 but his crowdfunding efforts quickly surpassed his wildest dreams.
His foundation, which he started while he was a college student, reported two years after the hurricane that the money went to rebuild more than 1,100 homes, and that 900 childcare centers and after school programs have also been rebuilt and recovered with the funds. The money was used to distribute more than 239 million meals to victims of the hurricane.
For his efforts, Watt was named the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year for the 2017 season.
Watt and the Texans were hoping to build off a 2019 season in which Houston won their sixth division title and had a playoff victory. But things quickly unraveled, with the Texans starting the season 0-4. Houston fired coach Bill O'Brien on Oct. 5.
And after the Texans dropped to 4-11 on the season following a Week 16 loss in December, Watt expressed his frustrations during a news conference when he was asked about how the team planned on finishing the season with nothing left to play for.
Watt, known for his passionate play, had a message for his "trash" team, as he called it: “If you can’t come in and put work in in the building, go out to the practice field and work hard, do your lifts and do what you’re supposed to do, you should not be here. This is a job. We are getting paid a whole lot of money.
"If you can’t care enough to go out there and give everything you got and try your hardest, that’s bull----."
His contract ran through the 2021 season but the Texans are in rebuild mode with a new coach and general manager after a 4-12 season. Deshaun Watson, the Texans' star quarterback, has also been the subject of trade rumors.
"The city of Houston has been unbelievable to me," said Watt, who added it's where he met his wife, Kealia, who previously played for the Houston Dash professional women's soccer club.
"The connection is special. I will never take that for granted because I know how rare that is. I’m excited and looking forward to a new opportunity and I’ve been working extremely hard. But at the same time it is always tough to move on."
Watt came to the NFL after an All-American junior season with the Badgers that ended in a Rose Bowl defeat to TCU. He was initially recruited as a tight end at Central Michigan. But after one season there, he transferred to Wisconsin as a walk-on, switched positions and never looked back.
Besides an NFL star on the field, the 2007 Pewaukee High School graduate has become quite the media star off the field over the years. Last year, he hosted "Saturday Night Live," he co-hosted a competition-based game show with his two NFL brothers, has become a spokesperson, along with his family, for Subway and put out some memorable commercials in 2020, and has appeared in other TV series and movies.