Falcons: Should Terry Fontenot call the Texans and attempt to acquire JJ Watt?

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I would say I feel bad for Texans fans, but then I remember how brash and arrogant they were when the Astros got caught cheating. If you’re a Texans fan who isn’t an Astros fan, I guess I hurt for you. I’m still convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Astros cursed Houston. They will now be losing Deshaun Watson after already losing James Harden, George Springer, DeAndre Hopkins, and Gerrit Cole. Now a new name has entered the fray — three-time defensive player of the year and five-time first-team All-Pro JJ Watt.

Before you start harping about cap space, remember Terry Fontenot went to the Mickey Loomis school of making it work. Alex had a great breakdown here about how Atlanta can free up at least $15 million in cap space before cuts. This team will be restructuring guys regardless of any trades, so why not use that space to get a guy like Watt? Even though the Falcons whiffed on TJ Watt, maybe a Watt brother will still be in red and blank.

Strengths

JJ Watt is JJ Watt. We’re talking about a guy who is an absolute game wrecker, who won defensive player of the year three times. In preparation for Watt, teams have their coaches use tennis rackets to knock down their quarterback’s passes because his wingspan is so freakishly long. In addition to his absurd body and athleticism, Watt is one of the best leaders in the NFL — the guy is the mayor of Houston. He fired Bill O’Brien, straight up. For him to want to leave Houston after what he has done for that franchise and city, especially in the wake of Hurricane Harvey that devastated so many, it must be worse in that building than we think.

With Watt’s massive cap hit — I think the return in a trade would be pretty reasonable. Perhaps Atlanta could do some salary matching or use a younger developing chip like Isaiah Oliver to get a deal done, but I don’t think this trade would require a first-round pick. Watt is a free agent in 2022, so the risk of getting stuck with an ugly contract is pretty minimal. His 2021 cap hit of $17.5 million can fit into Atlanta’s salary table with some maneuvering. Pairing him with Grady Jarrett in Dean Pees’ 3-4 hybrid would present a natural fit for him as well, so I think he could provide a lot of value and potentially re-up with Atlanta when his contract expires.

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Weaknesses

Watt isn’t the guy he used to be, and injuries have played a big role in that. Teams will never forget his run from 2012 to 2015 in which he notched 69 sacks, 119 tackles for a loss, 15 forced fumbles, ten fumble recoveries, an interception, and a score without missing any starts. He’s not that guy anymore, but he still keeps defensive coordinators up at night.

He had 16 sacks in 2018, so there’s still something in the tank when he’s healthy. Speaking of injuries, this presents the biggest gamble when acquiring Watt. It can leverage a lower return in a trade, but JJ has missed 32 games since 2016. I will note that he did not miss any action in 2020, but he only managed five sacks. Of course, there is also the risk that he walks away from a team after one season that badly needs their draft picks.

 

Team Fit

Atlanta is in desperate need of a consistent pass rush, especially with a secondary that may only get younger this offseason. Not only is Watt a scheme fit, but he must also be accounted for at all times when he’s on the field, which can command attention away from Grady Jarrett, Dante Fowler Jr, and any other young pass rushers Atlanta chooses to draft.

Watt is expensive this season, but he’s a one-year lottery ticket that could pay serious dividends if he reverts to 2014 JJ Watt. It’s clear that he wants out of Houston, and with that dumpster fire of an organization in panic mode, I think Atlanta can sweet talk them into acquiring Watt with some draft capital. Miami owns Houston’s first two picks this season, so a second or third and some late future capital is worth the gamble in my eyes, especially if JJ Watt decides he likes the culture in Atlanta and wants to sign on for a few more seasons.

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