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Are Packers a possibility for J.J. Watt? Here's what we know and don't know

Chris Speckhard
Packers News
Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt walks on the field during the first half of an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020, in Houston.

Now that J.J. Watt and the Houston Texans have mutually agreed to part ways, what's the next move for the Pewaukee native and former University of Wisconsin Badgers star?

What's the possibility that the defensive end will end up with the Green Bay Packers, his home-state team? That’s a move many Packers fans would welcome — and a move that some fans have been vocal about in the past.

In the wake of the news, we break down what we know, and just as important, we’ll break down what we don’t know about Watt’s past, his present and his prospects for the future.

Here's what we know

  • Houston drafted Watt out of Wisconsin 11th overall in 2011, and he blossomed into a three-time Defensive Player of the Year winner (2012, 2014, 2015). He recorded his 100th sack in 2020, 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.
  • Injuries limited him to eight games in 2016 and 2017, and he missed half of 2019 and managed only five sacks in 16 games this past year.
  • During his time in Houston, Watt formed strong ties with the community, raising over $30 million for relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in 2017. His wife, Kealia Ohai, is a professional soccer player with the Chicago Red Stars and previously played for the Houston Dash. 
  • Watt's contract ran through the 2021 season, but the Texans are in a rebuilding mode with a new coach and general manager after a 4-12 season during which Watt called out his "trash" team for poor effort and work ethic. He had been the subject of trade rumors during the season, some involving the Green Bay Packers, but no deal came to fruition.

What we don't know

  • Where will Watt end up? Again, the Packers' name has come up among potential suitors, along with a number of other teams including the Pittsburgh Steelers, where Watt's brother, T.J., plays linebacker.
  • Given his desire to leave the rebuilding Texans, Watt is likely considering only immediate contenders to vie for the Super Bowl. That would include the Packers, although in response to a reader question earlier this week, PackersNews.com columnist Pete Dougherty deemed Green Bay's chances of landing Watt a long shot, warning, "He's getting old — 32 in March — and has a long injury history, so his body is breaking down."
  • Among other concerns, the Packers' salary cap constraints would require Watt to take a sizable pay cut. Dougherty added: "His last deal averaged $16.7M. Would he play for half that? Even that's a lot for a guy with his injury history who had only five sacks last season and for a team with the Packers' cap situation."

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