J.J. Watt's Cardinals Contract Signing Bonus, Performance Incentives Revealed

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 3, 2021

Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (99) is seen during pregame warmups before an NFL football game against the Tennessee Titans, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, in Houston. (AP Photo/Matt Patterson)
Matt Patterson/Associated Press

New Arizona Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt will receive $28 million in base salary with a potential to earn $3 million more in incentives as part of his two-year contract.

Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network provided details of the deal Wednesday:

Ian Rapoport @RapSheet

Details on the 2-year deal for new #AZCardinals DE JJ Watt: — $12M signing bonus — $14.5M base value in Year 1 — $28M base over 2 years, max $31M — $3M in incentives based on sacks — 10 sacks in 2021 gets $1M in 2021 and a $1M escalator for 2022 — 10 sacks in 2022 gets $1M more

Mike Garafolo of NFL Network added Watt's deal includes a no-trade clause.

Watt was released by the Houston Texans in mid-February, which made him eligible to sign immediately rather than having to wait until the free-agent period opens March 17.

Although the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year received widespread interest—ESPN's Ed Werder noted "approximately a dozen teams" reached out—in the end, the 2011 first-round pick simply "went to the highest bidder," per Matthew Fairburn of The Athletic.

There was speculation he could join his brothers, T.J. and Derek, with the Pittsburgh Steelers or take less money to join a top-tier championship contender in pursuit of a Super Bowl title to complete his resume.

The Cardinals could prove the best of both worlds for Watt. He maximized his value on the open market and could still compete for a title.

"So, their recruiting pitch was strong and heavy," Watt told reporters. "But at the end of the day, I told my wife, you know all signs just kind of kept pointing back down here to Arizona, and in my short time here on the ground, I can tell you that I'm absolutely pleased and couldn't be happier with my decision."

Arizona missed the playoffs with an 8-8 record in 2020, but there were signs the team could be getting close to making some serious noise. It was 6-3 after a victory over the Buffalo Bills, who went on to reach the AFC Championship Game, but then lost five of its final seven games.

A little more consistency would go a long way because the Cards roster features most of the hallmarks of a title threat.

They have a franchise quarterback in Kyler Murray, a true No. 1 receiver in DeAndre Hopkins, an elite left tackle in D.J. Humphries and a standout safety in Budda Baker. The pass rush should be in good hands with Watt and the returning Chandler Jones, who was limited to five games before a season-ending biceps injury.  Jones had 19 sacks two years ago.

The Cardinals are betting on a bounce-back year from Watt, who registered nine sacks in 24 games over the past two years after recording 16 sacks in 16 games for the Texans in 2018.

The 31-year-old may not be the nearly unstoppable force he was during his prime, but getting back closer to that sack-a-game pace would be a massive boost for Arizona for the next two seasons.