Cardinals Had 'No Idea' J.J. Watt Was Going to Announce Retirement, Kingsbury Says

Erin WalshDecember 28, 2022

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - NOVEMBER 14: Head coach Kliff Kingsbury and J.J. Watt #99 of the Arizona Cardinals fist bump prior to the game against the Carolina Panthers at State Farm Stadium on November 14, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona. The Panthers defeated the Cardinals 34-10. (Photo by Kelsey Grant/Getty Images)
Kelsey Grant/Getty Images

Arizona Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt announced Tuesday that he would be retiring from the NFL after the 2022 season, which caught many in the organization by surprise, including head coach Kliff Kingsbury.

Kingsbury told reporters Wednesday that he "had no idea" Watt would be announcing his retirement this week.

Bo Brack @BoBrack

Kliff Kingsbury says he didn't know J.J. Watt was going to announce his retirement on Tuesday <a href="https://t.co/PW68c3e2ay">pic.twitter.com/PW68c3e2ay</a>

Watt announced his retirement in a Twitter post on Tuesday, writing that Sunday's 19-16 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at State Farm Stadium would be his last NFL home game.

It was a special moment for Watt, who revealed that Sunday's matchup was also the first time his son, Koa James Watt, who was born in October, was in attendance for one of his games.

JJ Watt @JJWatt

Koa's first ever NFL game. <br>My last ever NFL home game. <br><br>My heart is filled with nothing but love and gratitude. It's been an absolute honor and a pleasure. <br><br>🙏🏼 <a href="https://t.co/wXbDUcHM8B">pic.twitter.com/wXbDUcHM8B</a>

Watt's contract with the Cardinals is up after this season. So, if the 33-year-old decides he wants to return to the field at some point in the future, he'll be able to choose which team he joins.

For now, Watt's final two NFL games will be played on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons and Jan. 8 against the San Francisco 49ers.

The Central Michigan and Wisconsin product became one of the most dominant defensive players in the league over the last decade, and he'll likely be a first-ballot Hall of Famer when eligible in 2028.

The Houston Texans selected Watt 11th overall in the 2011 NFL draft. He spent 10 seasons with the franchise, earning three Defensive Player of the Year awards, five Pro Bowl selections and five first-team All-Pro honors.

Houston released Watt in February 2021, and he signed a two-year deal with the Cardinals a few weeks later.

He appeared in just seven games for the Cardinals during the 2021 season before tearing his labrum, bicep and rotator cuff, in addition to dislocating his shoulder. In 14 games this season, he has posted 9.5 sacks, six pass breakups, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, 33 tackles, 14 tackles for a loss and 21 quarterback hits.

The Wisconsin native ranks 26th on the NFL's all-time sack list with 111.5 sacks in 12 seasons, and he is the only player in league history to record 20-plus sack campaigns twice. Additionally, he is the Texans' career sack leader with 101.

The Cardinals, fourth in the NFC West with a 4-11 record, will certainly miss Watt in 2023, and it's unclear how they intend to replace him. That will be one of the many questions the franchise needs to answer this offseason following another disappointing season.