Texans' Updated Roster, Salary Cap After J.J. Watt's Release

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistFebruary 12, 2021

Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (99) walks onto the field for an NFL football game against the Tennessee Titans Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

The Houston Texans saved themselves a great deal of money against the salary cap Friday by parting ways with veteran defensive end J.J. Watt.

The team announced Friday that it "mutually agreed" to part ways with the best defensive player in Texans history.

According to Spotrac, the move will save the Texans $17.5 million against the cap. While there are many moves left to be made, the Texans currently have an adjusted cap number of just over $194 million with $8.9 million in cap space.

With Watt out of the picture, the Texans roster now looks like this. The move leaves them with a highly inexperienced crop of defensive linemen, as Ross Blacklock, Brandon Dunn, Eddie Vanderdoes, Charles Omenihu and Andrew Brown are currently the only defensive linemen under contract for 2021.

Watt, 31, has been one of the NFL's most-dominant defensive players during his 10-year career with 101 sacks and 172 tackles for loss in 128 games.

He is also one of only three players to win the Defensive Player of the Year award three times since the Associated Press began handing out the award in 1971, joining New York Giants legend Lawrence Taylor and Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

Watt had only five sacks in 16 games during the 2020 season, but he also recorded 14 tackles for loss, making him one of the few bright spots on a Texans defense that ranked 30th in yards allowed and 27th in points allowed.

Perhaps the biggest driving force behind releasing Watt aside from his contract is his recent injury history. Watt played in all 16 games in 2020, but that marked only the second time he did so in the past five seasons.

Watt played in only eight games combined in 2016 and 2017, and he appeared in only eight regular-season games in 2019.

By cutting Watt, however, the Texans' options along the defensive line are severely lacking. Watt led the team with five sacks last season followed by Omenihu and linebacker Whitney Mercilus, who tied for second with four.

Aside from Omenihu, none of the Texans' other defensive linemen under contract for 2021 recorded a single sack last season.

That means the Texans will almost certainly have to dip into the free-agent pool or make selecting a pass-rusher in the 2021 NFL draft a top priority, although Houston won't make its first pick until the third round.

In addition to Watt, it also remains possible that much of quarterback Deshaun Watson's nearly $16 million salary for 2021 could come off the books should the Texans decide to trade him.

ESPN's Adam Schefter has reported that the Texans have told teams they aren't trading Watson despite his desire to play elsewhere, but with Houston releasing Watt on Friday and trading wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins last offseason, seemingly nothing is off the table.