With defensive lineman Shelby Harris hitting free agency, the Broncos have a potential need along their defensive line. Re-signing Harris is still a possibility here, but a future Hall Of Famer just became available who could have some interest in joining the Denver Broncos. That player obviously being now-former Texans standout defensive lineman J.J. Watt.
Weight: 288 pounds
Age: 31 years old
Experience: 10 NFL seasons
J.J. Watt was selected in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Houston Texans who used their 11th overall selection on him. From there, he went on to be one of the best defensive players during that decade and continues that strong play still today.
While he has dealt with injuries, Watt has been a highly productive player throughout his career. During Watt’s 10 NFL seasons, he totaled 531 tackles, 101 sacks, 172 tackles for a loss, 282 quarterback hits, 25 forced fumbles, and 61 pass deflections. This past season for the Texans, Watt totaled 52 tackles, 5 sacks, 14 tackles for a loss, 17 quarterback hits, 2 forced fumbles, and 7 pass deflections.
Why It Makes Sense
J.J. Watt is a Hall Of Fame defensive lineman so if you can add that type of talent to your defensive line, you do it. Yes, Watt is nearing the end of his career, but he’s still a productive player and a player the offense will need to focus on week in and week out.
The Broncos do currently have a need at interior defensive line as well. Shelby Harris is a free agent and as of now, the Broncos haven’t seem all that keen on giving him a longterm deal. Harris was expected to break the bank last offseason but ended up signing a one-year deal worth $3 million dollars. So I find it hard to believe that they will go above and beyond for him so maybe they will consider Watt instead? He is still playing at a high-level by earning a 85.5 overall grade according to PFF.
Pairing Watt with Von Miller(potentially), Bradley Chubb, DreMont Jones in a Vic Fangio defense could be fun to watch.
Even with some decline in recent years, Watt remains one of the best edge defenders in the league and his 85.5 overall grade ranked seventh among edge defenders in 2020. After battling injuries off and on for about five years, Watt was one of only two defensive linemen to play over 1,000 snaps last season, showing that he is still capable of producing at an every-down level. At his peak, Watt was a Hall-of-Fame level player who posted four straight years of 90-plus grades between 2012 and 2015. Though 2013, Watt was more of an interior defensive lineman before playing more on the edge starting in 2014, and a move back to the interior could be a wise move to maximize his production moving forward.
Contract Analysis: Watt asked to be released with one-year remaining on his six-year, $100 million extension signed in 2014. A $17.5 million non-guaranteed base salary was the only compensation left, and Houston will take on $0 in dead money, making it a clean exit for all parties. With over $100 million in career earnings – and Watt repeatedly expressing that although he knew he could’ve gone back to the Texans and asked for a raise, he was fine with his compensation – it stands to reason that he’d be willing to take a discount to chase his first Lombardi trophy. At 32 years old, even though he was still one of the best defensive linemen in the NFL in 2020, he may not have a ton of time left.
The presence of Bill Kollar could also potentially sway Watt to Denver as well. Kollar was Watt’s defensive lineman coach during his early years in the league with the Texans before following Gary Kubiak to Denver. Kollar is one of the best in the league and earned the respect of many, including J.J. Watt. Here’s what Watt had to say about Kollar back in 2014.
“As a rookie coming in it took me a little while to figure Bill out and for him to figure me out,” Watt said. “But then what I figured out was you work your tail off every single day and give him everything you have, you’re going to have a good relationship. I think that’s why our relationship has been so good over the last couple years.”
Watt continued, “He’s so experienced, he’s so knowledgeable and if you give him everything you have, he’s going to give you everything he has and he’s going to turn you into a great player,” Watt said. “I’m very fortunate to have a coach like him.”
So could a potential reunion between the two men be in the cards? If so, it will be an exciting addition for the Broncos.
Why it doesn’t make sense
With Watt in the final years of his career, he’s looking to play for a Super Bowl contender and get himself a ring before his career concludes. Unfortunately for the Broncos, they’re pretty far from being a Super Bowl contender and even calling them a postseason contender seems like a stretch right now.
The Broncos have a Head Coach on the hot seat, uncertainty at quarterback(adding his former teammate Deshaun Watson certainly would help the Broncos odds) and are coming of a disappointing 5-11 season. We’re not a team where veterans like Watt decide to spend their final years with and try to secure a ring. Teams like the Packers, Bills, Browns, and Steelers have been the rumored favorites while the Broncos have yet to be mentioned.
In the end, the Broncos will be better off re-signing Shelby Harris and let him continue playing at a high-level at likely half the price Watt would cost.
Adding J.J. Watt would certainly be fun and having Bill Kollar on the coaching staff likely does help the Broncos a bit, but I just don’t see it happening. The AFC is a competitive conference and the Broncos are at best a fringe postseason team currently(getting a QB would certainly change this) so it doesn’t make sense for Watt to come here if he’s looking to play for a contender.
It still is fun to think about. Adding his talent, leadership and presence will improve everyone around him and open up opportunities for Von Miller and Bradley Chubb.
It’s a fun dream, but seems unlikely to happen.