NFL free agency doesn’t officially open until March 17, which is the first day of the new league year. Players whose contracts expired can’t sign until then. However, guys who have been released by teams in the midst of current contracts can sign at any time, and there could be a resolution soon on where former Houston Texans defensive end and three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year JJ Watt lands. The new favorite on the NFL odds to sign him is the Cleveland Browns.
JJ Watt Could Choose Browns Soon | 2021 NFL Expert AnalysisWatt is only going to sign with a team that can reach a Super Bowl as he never got past the divisional round with Houston. The Browns, Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Detroit Lions have never reached a Super Bowl – the only four active franchises to never play in the game. Cleveland has a realistic shot in 2021, though, as Cleveland finished 11-5 this past season, pulled a up huge upset in Pittsburgh in the wild-card round and then nearly upset the Chiefs in the divisional round in Kansas City.
Cleveland is currently +1600 on the NFL odds to win Super Bowl 56 next February in Los Angeles.
The five-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro Watt finished 2020 with the sixth-most tackles for loss (14) and played all 16 games – which had been rare in recent years. Watt, entering his age-32 season, was Pro Football Focus’ seventh highest-graded edge defender in 2020 who has the third most QB pressures since 2011. On Feb. 12, 2021, the Texans released their best player in franchise history.
Money also will matter to Watt as to where he signs. He wants to get paid his market value, and the Browns have the cap space to pay him. They’re 10th in the NFL with about $21.7 million in space. Watt was due to make $17.5 million in 2021 before Houston cut him and likely looking for a similar salary. The Browns were prepared to pay about that much last offseason to Jadeveon Clowney, making him a higher one-year offer than any other team. Clowney chose to sign with Tennessee.
Another thing Cleveland offers is fellow defensive end Myles Garrett. While Watt is a future Hall of Famer and still a good player, Garrett is now the superior player after finishing with 12 sacks last year and he would take up the double-teams that Watt usually got. In fact, Watt was double-teamed on 30 percent of snaps last year with the Texans, most of any edge rusher in the NFL. Garrett was double-teamed on 25 percent. There aren’t enough blockers for opposing teams to double-team both.
Watt and Garrett would create mismatches all over the place. Cycling Watt, Garrett, Adrian Clayborn, Porter Gustin and a top 50 pick from the 2021 draft instantly transforms the Browns defense. The Browns finished 16th in the NFL in sacks last season, a number that would surely rise with Watt and Garett playing opposite of each other.
“The guy’s a hell of a player,” Watt said of Garrett prior to Houston’s Week 10 loss to Cleveland this past season. “He’s got speed. He’s got quickness and power. He’s got all the tools you need, and he’s obviously playing at an extremely high level.”
In terms of the scheme, Watt would be a clearer fit in Cleveland’s 4-3. Not to mention, Browns defensive end Olivier Vernon is a free agent, and he ruptured an Achilles tendon at the end of last season. There’s also the added bonus of the fact that Cleveland does play Houston this season and Watt probably would like to face the Texans.
Green Bay, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay also are considered among the favorites to sign Watt. The Steelers, who already have Watt’s two brothers T.J. and Derek Watt on their roster, are currently about $30 million over the cap. Watt grew up in Wisconsin as a Packers fan, starred at the University of Wisconsin and still has family living there. Green Bay is currently over the salary cap, however. Of course, the Bucs offer Tom Brady and the fact they are defending Super Bowl champions. The Bucs do have some salary cap space but also have to re-sign a few of their own key guys.
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