Future Hall of Famer J.J. Watt likely has a career in media waiting for him when he hangs up his helmet, but Monday morning he scooped several of his future potential colleagues when he let the rest of the NFL know that his free agency was ending and he was signing with the Arizona Cardinals. The deal is reportedly 2 years and worth $31 Million with $23 Million Guaranteed.
Here was the tweet Watt posted announcing his next football home.
So, let's try to dissect what the Watt deal means for the entire league, as well as The Broncos specifically.
Watt's deal surprised a lot of folks in that the Cardinals weren't necessarily at the forefront of the list of teams that many thought he would end up playing for. Green Bay made sense because he's from Wisconsin. Pittsburgh made sense because both of his brothers play for the Steelers. Buffalo made sense because they could really use him and are coming off a big year. The Browns made sense because they also had a big year, could use him, and had room to pay him and pair him with Myles Garrett and some other young talent in Cleveland. Kansas City made a lot of sense because the Chiefs have the best look at a Super Bowl going into the year, and Tennessee made sense because they've had back-to-back playoff trips, and he's got a good relationship with Titans Head Coach Mike Vraebel from their time together in Houston.
While Arizona wasn't a talking point, they certainly make sense for a number of reasons. There's a familiarity with the defense from his time playing under Wade Phillips when Cards Defensive Coordinator Vance Joseph was the secondary coach Watt's first 3 years in the league. Also, with Kyler Murray, former Texan teammate DeAndre Hopkins and Chandler Jones, they are an exciting young team, that's arrow is clearly pointed up.
The idea that Watt and Jones can rush from the same side or opposite sides will certainly keep Pete Carroll, Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan up a night. Since entering the league in 2012, Chandler Jones has the most regular season sacks with 97, Watt is second with 95.5. Side note, Von Miller is 3rd with 94. If you factor in playoff sacks Miller and Watt both have 6 (including 2 pretty big sacks in Super Bowl 50. Jones has 2 post-season sacks, all with New England.
Now let's look at the money. The Cardinals have a little more room on their salary cap than people may have realized thanks to Murray being on a rookie deal. Last week when ESPN's Dianna Russini reported that some teams were willing to go as high as $15 or $16 Million, it seemed like teams that aren't very good, but have plenty of cap space like the Jags or the Jets or even Cleveland. By guaranteeing him $23 Million, Watt will definitely in AZ for 2 years, and then still have a chance to go elsewhere if there's a team closer to chasing a ring or if he wants to play with one or both of his brothers, as T.J. will almost certainly still be in "The Steel City" still.
So, what does the Watt deal mean for the Broncos? As it relates to Von Miller, it gives the team a comparable contract, certainly in terms of average annual value, and perhaps in terms of one possible contract to duplicate. It's more likely that if the Broncos negotiate a longer deal with Von to give him a little more guaranteed money and because there are plenty of people in the organization who want to keep him in Denver for his entire career, including President of Football Operations, John Elway.
Of course, it's new General Manager George Paton's call as to whether or not the team decides to pick up Von's option on the final year of his deal that'll pay him $18.5 Million this year, and count $22.5 against the lowered salary cap(and that won't happen). They can work out an extension, as laid out above, or they can outright release him. Because the market for Watt was a little more robust than some may have expected, there's no reason to think it won't be similar for Miller if he's released. And, because the Super Bowl MVP has a ring already, money may be a bigger factor, or perhaps the specific team may matter more, than either chasing a ring outright, and the total dollar amount, ie his hometown Cowboys, where Miller would have to take a very reduced salary at least in year one to fit under the cap in Dallas.
Also a factor in Miller's future with the Broncos is the investigation that was opened by Parker Police and given to the 18th Judicial District, D.A.'s office. While some people with knowledge of the specifics of the case believe it may just go away, when and if it does, likely plays into some of Paton's thinking.
As for Shelby Harris, his market is effected by Watt in a couple of ways as well. Although many across the league believe a number of good players will be released over the next few weeks as "cap casualties" with the salary cap expected to be somewhere between $180 and $190 Million(it was $198.5 Mil in 2020), there aren't a number of great 3-4 Defensive Ends/4-3 Defensive Tackles on the market, as of now. In fact, Harris may be at the top of the list now that Watt has a new gig. If the Giants don't franchise or extend Leonard Williams would likely be on most people's wish list above Harris but that's about it.
Arizona may have been a team hoping to take a run at Harris because of the obvious tie with Joseph. Cleveland makes sense with Joe Woods as the Defensive Coordinator there, and we know they expressed interest in Watt. There are a handful of other teams believed to have Harris high on their free agent board as well. When the salary cap is set, that may determine how much certain teams are willing to pay for Harris, and while it may be a few million bucks less than Watt per year, it may be a healthy number.
We know Vic Fangio likes Harris, he said it multiple times throughout the season, as well as at the end of the year. Harris is a great fit in Fangio's defense, and his versatility makes him even more valuable.
The bottom line, it's likely that the Broncos will have to outbid other suitors for Harris, the question is how high are they willing to go?