Steelers, Browns among large group to express interest in released J.J. Watt

The Houston Texans on Friday released star defensive end J.J. Watt, granting his request.

Watt was drafted by the Texans in 2011 with the No. 11 pick and became the face of the franchise, winning three NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards from 2012 to ’15. He is one of three players to gain that award three times.

“I have sat down with the McNair family and I have asked them for my release, and we have mutually agreed to part ways at this time,” Watt said in a video posted to Twitter. “I came here 10 years ago as a kid from Wisconsin who’d never really been to Texas before. And now I can’t imagine my life without Texas in it. The way that you guys have treated me, besides draft night. I mean, you guys booed me on draft night. But every day after that, you treated me like family. And I truly feel like you’re my family.

“… I’m excited and looking forward to a new opportunity, and I’ve been working extremely hard. But at the same time, it is always tough to move on. And I just want you guys to know that I love you. I appreciate you. I appreciate the McNair family for drafting me and giving me my first opportunity in the NFL.”

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Watt had one year left on the contract he signed in 2014.

He was owed $17.5 million in 2021, but his salary was not guaranteed. He is now free to sign with another team.

League sources told ESPN’s Ed Werder that approximately a dozen teams initially had shown interest in Watt since his release, including the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns, Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans. Sources stated Watt’s priority in determining his next team will be his belief that he can play in a Super Bowl with that team based on its supporting cast; he has never reached a conference championship game.

Watt’s brothers, T.J. and Derek, both play for the Steelers. T.J. took to Twitter after J.J. Watt announced his release Friday, showing he wants his brother to join them in Pittsburgh.

J.J. Watt is coming off just his second 16-game season since 2015, as he has dealt with several season-ending injuries since then.

In 2020, Watt ranked 15th out of 119 qualified pass-rushers in pass rush win rate, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. He ended the season with five sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception that he returned for a touchdown.

Watt is by far the most productive pass-rusher in Texans history with 101 career sacks. There have been only two players in team history with more than 30 career sacks (Whitney Mercilus with 54 and Mario Williams with 53) since the franchise’s first season in 2002.

Watt’s departure comes in an offseason in which the Texans have hired coach David Culley and general manager Nick Caserio to replace Bill O’Brien, who held both jobs and was fired after the team opened the season 0-4.

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