J.J. Watt agrees to two-year contract with Arizona Cardinals

Nate Davis

DeAndre Hopkins has reeled in another miracle catch for the Arizona Cardinals.

Defensive end J.J. Watt, a teammate of Hopkins' for seven years with the Houston Texans, posted pictures of himself on social media Monday working out in a Cardinals T-shirt.

The captions on Twitter and Instagram read, "source: me." The team later confirmed it had reached a two-year deal with Watt.

ESPN reported the three-time defensive player of the year, who was granted his release last month after 10 seasons in Houston, received a $31 million pact with $23 million guaranteed.

Since Watt's contract with the Texans was terminated, he is eligible to sign immediately even though NFL free agency doesn't officially begin until March 17.

In Arizona, Watt will join what appears to be an ascending team under coach Kliff Kingsbury and quarterback Kyler Murray, both headed for their third seasons in the desert. However, the Cards come off a disappointing finish to 2020, winding up with an 8-8 record – after a 6-3 start – that cost them a wild-card berth even in an expanded playoff field.

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Hopkins, who famously hauled in the "Hail Murray" TD to beat the Buffalo Bills last season, had relentlessly recruited the five-time All-Pro since his divorce from the Texans, who infamously traded Hopkins to Arizona in 2020.

He'd implored Watt in an Instagram post earlier this month to "finish what we started." The post showed both in Arizona jerseys.

Watt will join a defense that finished 13th overall despite losing star linebacker Chandler Jones to a torn biceps after five games. Arizona's pass rush could be quite formidable in 2021 with Watt joining Jones and potentially pending free agent Haason Reddick, who exploded for a career-best 12½ sacks.

Monday morning, the Cardinals had $11 million in cap space, per Over The Cap, which means some restructures and player releases are likely, given the size of Watt's short-term deal. That could also make it hard to retain Reddick, 26, especially if the franchise tag is general manager Steve Keim's only recourse.

Watt has 101 sacks in 128 career games and should fit snugly into his customary left end spot in coordinator Vance Joseph's 3-4 defense. Joseph overlapped as a defensive assistant in Houston with Watt for three seasons (2011-13).

Though Watt's five sacks in 2020 were a career-low for him over a full season, it was enough to lead the Texans. He also had a team-high 17 quarterback hits and a 19-yard pick six in a Thanksgiving win at Detroit, where he gave a vintage performance.

The question is, how many of those are left inside a battered body that turns 32 this month? It should help being paired with Jones and/or Reddick rather than dealing with constant double teams. Watt's value is also magnified by his staunch, and underrated, play against the run. 

In the NFC West, that will be a valuable commodity given the frequency with which his new division rivals – the Rams, 49ers and Seahawks – keep the ball on the ground. Of course, Watt will doubtless embrace the opportunities to hunt Seattle's Russell Wilson, L.A.'s Matthew Stafford and, presumably, San Francisco's Jimmy  Garoppolo.

A first-round pick of the Texans in 2011, Watt forfeited $17.5 million by asking out of his final year in Houston.


Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.

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