Cardinals' J.J. Watt Designated to Return from IR After Recovery from Shoulder Injury

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 7, 2022

Arizona Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt walks on the field during an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, in Cleveland. The Cardinals won 37-14. (AP Photo/David Richard)
AP Photo/David Richard

The Arizona Cardinals announced Friday they've designated defensive end J.J. Watt to return from injured reserve amid his recovery from a shoulder injury suffered in late October.

Watt is eligible to rejoin the Cards for practice immediately and the team has 21 days to either restore him to the active roster or leave him on IR for the remainder of the season.

The three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year attracted interest from several Super Bowl contenders after being released by the Houston Texans in February. He ultimately signed a two-year, $28 million contract with Arizona in March.

Watt was off to a sluggish start statistically—16 total tackles and one sack in seven games—before suffering the shoulder injury, but he still earned a solid 79 overall grade from Pro Football Focus.

ESPN's Adam Schefter reported the standout defender's subsequent surgery was expected to keep him out for the remainder of the campaign.

Watt started to drop hints in early December that a quicker comeback was possible:

JJ Watt @JJWatt

“Only those who attempt the absurd can achieve the impossible.”<br><br>- Albert Einstein

Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury responded to that Twitter post by saying the team was keeping the door open for a late-season return.

"You can't count him out," Kingsbury told reporters. "He's a machine, and he's been working like crazy. I'm never up here when he's not up here doing some sort of rehab. And today, he was out there on the field running. So, you never know with him."

Arizona has already clinched a playoff berth with an 11-5 record heading into Sunday's regular-season finale against the Seattle Seahawks. They could still win the NFC West division title and improve their seeding with a win and a Los Angeles Rams loss.

Technically, Watt could be activated Sunday to play against the Hawks, but that seems unlikely with just one practice until his belt. The procedural move does create an avenue for him to play in the team's Wild Card Round game, though.

It wouldn't be the first time the 32-year-old Wisconsin native defied the odds to play in the playoffs. In October 2019, he suffered what was described as a season-ending pectoral injury. He instead returned to help the Texans beat the Buffalo Bills in a wild-card game.

Watt's return would significantly bolster a Cardinals pass rush that ranks 11th in the NFL with 40 sacks this season.