Thirteen days into his 33-day head start on free agency, defensive lineman J.J. Watt continues to look for a new team. Multiple teams reportedly are interested, but no deal has been done, yet.
According to Diana Russini of ESPN.com, Watt “has received contract offers from multiple teams,” and “the most lucrative offer Watt currently has on the table is believed to be worth between $15 million and $16 million.”
Multiple league sources have identified multiple questions in response to this news. One high-level team executive opined that there’s “no way” that someone would put that much money on the table for Watt, given his age, his injury history, and the expected shrinkage of the salary cap.
Another source pointed out that the structure of the offer becomes critical to understanding its true value. How much is fully guaranteed at signing? Does the offer have a non-guaranteed back end that makes the average look higher than it really is?
If Watt gets a three-year contract that pays out (for example) $10 million fully-guaranteed in 2021, $15 million with an injury-guarantee that converts to a full guarantee in 2022, and $20 million in non-guaranteed salary in 2023, it’s technically a thee-year, $45 million contract. As a practical matter, however, it’s a one-year, $10 million deal or, possibly, a two-year, $25 million deal.
As another source put it, if multiple teams were truly interested in paying Watt in the range of $15 million to $16 million, it would have made much more sense for the Texans to try to trade Watt to someone who would have purchased his remaining contract ($17.5 million for one year) and then converted it to a more realistic long-term deal.
Under that scenario, the Texans could have shipped Watt to a new team under his current deal for, say, a seventh-round pick in 2021 and, if his contract were extended or if he had re-signed with that team before the 2022 draft, the Texans would have gotten another low-round pick next year.
Thus, if the market truly is in the range of $15 million to $16 million for Watt, the Texans’ decision to simply cut Watt loose without any compensation becomes more confusing. They could have gotten something for him. At a minimum, they could have at least tried.
Then there’s the factor we pointed out last night. It’s difficult to commit to Watt without knowing who else may be available as teams scramble to comply with a reduce salary cap. What if, for example, the Broncos don’t keep Von Miller? Lesser names than Watt or Miller also could become available, and the deals that could be done for those players could end up being much better on a dollar-for-dollar basis.
However it plays out, it’s obvious that Watt has yet to receive an offer that he has accepted. As one source argued on Thursday morning, if Watt were truly being offered a firm and real deal with a true and actual value falling between $15 million and $16 million annually, he should pounce on it.
Maybe he has. Maybe he will. Time, as always, will tell. But when he signs, remember not to draw any conclusions based on the initial reports but instead to wait for the breakdown of the actual details of the deal.