I decreed last month that I thought it was highly unlikely that J.J. Watt and the Houston Texans would see eye-to-eye on a new contract extension before the season. The Texans had all the leverage prior to the contract being hammered out. Only a very generous stance from Watt's representatives could lead to the star defensive end signing before the season.
And thankfully for the Texans, that's exactly what happened.
News broke late Monday night that Watt had agreed in principle to a long-term extension to keep him in Houston. As usual, the agent terminology of the deal broke first. (Agents are often key sources for NFL reporters.) Watt became "the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history" and received the largest contract ever for a defensive player.
If you'd begun with an objective take on where each side was bargaining from, you'd know that the total salary figure was where Houston would have the most room to work with. After all, since Watt was still under contract for two seasons, the Texans would have more room to spread out their guaranteed money and signing bonus.
There are a lot of ways to fiddle with contract math. Some guaranteed dollar figures are actually only guaranteed for injury. But that's not important here. What's important is that a six-year, $100 million extension sounds a lot bigger before you realize it doesn't start until 2016.
Per Over The Cap, the Texans were going to pay Watt $1.9 million this season and $6.9 million in 2015. According to the Houston Chronicle's John McClain, they've reworked those numbers. Watt will now make roughly $900,000 in base salary this season and $10 million in 2015, along with a $10 million signing bonus right away.
Without having the whole contract in front of me, I can't tell you exactly how the money is structured. But it seems likely that this six-year, $100 million extension is more of an eight-year, $100 million extension.
As we further unfold the onion that every NFL contract is, we'll likely find even more math in favor of the Texans. That's important because, even on the agent-reported terms, the Texans are already winners with this deal. Even with injury and skill guarantees kicking in each March, as McClain reported, there's nothing in this contract that should be onerous.
|J.J. Watt's Contract: Before and After|
|Year||Age||Old Terms||New Terms|
|2014||25||$1.9 million||$900,000 ($10 million signing bonus)|
|2015||26||$6.9 million||$9.9 million|
|2016||27||(Franchise Tag)||(Start of six-year extension, exact terms unknown)|
|Houston Chronicle, Over The Cap|
In a league in which the most important thing besides throwing the ball is getting after the quarterback, Watt is clearly one of the league's best at it. He's young (25), has not missed an entire game in his career (48 of 48 possible starts) and has shown the ability to produce at a high level even with the rest of his defense is a tire fire.
There are no sure things in the NFL. Injury can strike down a promising career at any time. But you can count on one hand the number of assets going forward with as much projected value as Watt.
|J.J. Watt's Advanced Statistical Production, 2012-2013|
|Year||Defeats (Rk)||FO Hurries (Rk)||PFF Hurries (Rk)||Tipped Passes (Rk)||PFF Rating (3-4 DE Rk)||QB Hits (Rk)|
|2012||56 (1)||29.5 (5)||30 (3)||18 (1)||+94.2 (1)||25 (1)|
|2013||35 (3)||38.5 (4)||38 (6)||7 (3)||+99.8 (1)||36 (1)|
|Football Outsiders, Pro Football Focus|
To lock up Watt at the agent-reported price of $16.6 million a season is a steal. Pro Football Talk believes the salary cap is only going to keep rising thanks to the NFL's new television deals, possibly to as high as $160 million in 2016. If that's true, barely beating the reported guarantees in Mario Williams' contract is going to be child's play by then.
And remember, this is if we take the reported contract at face value. There will almost certainly be a chunk of the contract that Watt won't see.
The Texans can be fairly criticized for a lot of areas of team building over the past couple of seasons. They've entered into contract extensions a bit too early with players who were unlikely to retain their value. They haven't had much success with the NFL draft. Their inability to accept quarterback as a real need this offseason has been mind-boggling.
But this contract is a masterstroke. Houston has one of the best defensive players in the NFL tied up long term on a team friendly contract. It's the kind of contract that, much like having a great quarterback, gives the team a lot more room for error in other areas going forward.