Does J.J. Watt Deserve Franchise Quarterback Money in Next Contract?

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Does J.J. Watt Deserve Franchise Quarterback Money in Next Contract?
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In his three NFL seasons, Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt has established himself as the best defensive player in the league and arguably the most valuable non-quarterback on any roster.

A veritable one-man wrecking crew, Watt claimed 2012 Defensive Player of the Year honors and has already compiled 36.5 sacks. The fact that he's produced those kinds of results while playing defensive end in Houston's 3-4 scheme (the defensive end doesn't typically post high sack totals in a 3-4) is ludicrous and speaks to his freakish talent and skill set.

And with Watt eligible for a contract extension, the question isn't whether or not he should be the league's highest-paid defensive player—that's merely a formality—but if he should receive the type of megabucks contract that franchise quarterbacks are lavished with ($18-plus million per season).

The saying goes that the quarterback is the most important position played in any sport. A true franchise signal-caller can will a team to victory, seemingly by his lonesome. 

With that said: Can an argument be made that Watt, the league's finest defender, deserves to make the same amount of money as passers like San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick, Baltimore's Joe Flacco and Chicago's Jay Cutler? (All three men will average at least $18 million over the lives of their respective deals.)

 

A Generational Talent, Watt Deserves to Be the League's Highest-Paid Defender

Over the past two seasons, Watt has finished first in Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) rankings for 3-4 defensive ends, and it hasn't been close. In 2012, Watt's magnum opus, he finished 57 points ahead of the second-place player, the Jets' Muhammad Wilkerson, and the chasm was even wider in 2013, when Watt finished nearly 66 points higher than Arizona's Calais Campbell.

Watt's pass-rushing aplomb is well documented, but it doesn't speak to his true level of dominance. He's also a terror in the run game and is as accomplished a pass-swatter as the league has seen in a long time, the NFL's version of Dikembe Mutombo.

While the statistics and metrics prove Watt's on-field brilliance, the eyeball test reveals the same incontrovertible truth: Watt is a generational talent, a transcendent player who is the Mozart of his craft, the on-field maestro of a destructive defensive symphony.

The highest-paid defensive player in the NFL is Buffalo Bills defensive end Mario Williams, who will earn an average of $16 million over the life of his contract. While Williams is a very good player, to compare him to Watt represents folly in its purest form. Watt is a superior player by any measure, and you can bet that the Bills would trade Williams for Watt in a Western New York minute.

Now, it's fair to say that the Bills needed to break the bank for Williams given their location (Buffalo isn't exactly known for its nightlife) and lack of overall success (12 years without a playoff berth at the time of the signing), but Watt shouldn't suffer as a result.

The Texans must do right by Watt, particularly when considering the team's No. 1 draft pick, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, is set to earn nearly double the amount in his rookie contract ($22.2 million guaranteed) as Watt will in his ($11.2 million guaranteed).

When the Texans do extend Watt, making him the highest-paid defensive player in the game is a no-brainer and anything less would frankly be insulting.

But should Watt make as much as, say, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers

 

The Importance of the Quarterback

Darron Cummings/Associated Press

Last year, Watt was outstanding. If not for St. Louis defensive end Robert Quinn's gaudy sack totals, Watt could easily have won Defensive Player of the Year for the second consecutive campaign.

And the Texans still went 2-14 and "earned" the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.

For those curious as to how that's possible, look no further than the wretched play the Texans received from the quarterback position.

Matt Schaub tossed 14 interceptions in eight starts and often wore the shell-shocked, crestfallen look of a beaten man. Case Keenum started the final eight games and lost them all and never looked like a franchise option.

While it's true that an NFL team can win and thrive with an above-average passer, possessing a top-end option at the position is critical. The Texans certainly underachieved in 2013, but what would their record have been if Peyton Manning had been under center for 16 games? It's extremely difficult to imagine the team going 2-14 in that scenario.

But the point that Watt's representatives will surely make is that players of Rodgers' and Manning's ilk aren't the only quarterbacks making exorbitant sums of greenbacks. Passers like Cutler, Kaepernick, Flacco and Atlanta's Matt Ryan are all making in excess of $18 million annually over the lives of their deals, and it can be argued that Watt is a superior talent to all four.

 

In the NFL, Paying Quarterbacks Big Money Is the Price of Doing Business

I always chuckle when I hear and see complaints about a player like Kaepernick receiving a massive contract extension. In the NFL, paying quarterbacks is the price of doing business.

Without Kaepernick, the 49ers would be sunk. If the Ravens lost Flacco, the season would be over. The Bears would have a difficult time reaching the .500 mark without Cutler. No Ryan would equal no playoffs in Atlanta.

Yeah, the four players just listed aren't in the same class as masters such as Rodgers, Manning and New Orleans' Drew Brees. But quarterback is the most important position, meaning even the above-average options are worthy of gargantuan contracts.

While it's nice to have a quarterback not hamstringing the salary cap, paying one big money means you've found a keeper, and that normally translates to playoff contention on an annual basis. It's a good problem to have.

The Texans selected their presumptive quarterback of the future, Tom Savage, in the fourth round of this past May's draft. If Savage turns out to be a star, won't he be more important to the team's win/loss efforts than Watt? Shouldn't Savage make more money than Watt if he evolves into a Pro Bowl option?

If Savage is indeed the real deal, he becomes the most important player on the roster. Period, end of story. It doesn't diminish Watt as a player, or even mean that Savage is a better player than Watt. It only means that Savage, the quarterback, is more vital than Watt, the defensive end.

Watt deserves to be the highest-paid defensive player in the league, and the hope is that the Texans make that happen sooner rather than later, as they do possess leverage in the form of the franchise tag.

But to suggest that Watt deserves the same money as a franchise quarterback? Will all due respect to the game's finest defender, that simply cannot and should not happen. 

 

Nick Kostos is a featured NFL columnist for Bleacher Report and an executive producer for SiriusXM Sports. You can follow him on Twitter here.

Contract information from Spotrac.com and OverTheCap.com was used in this column.

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