INDIANAPOLIS – He’s the defensive player the Colts prepared for as much as any during the 2020 season, and have for the past decade.
And now J.J. Watt—the best player in the history of the Houston Texans—is on the open market.
Putting Watt aside for a minute, the Colts have a definite need at defensive end this offseason.
Of the 1,437 defensive snaps played by Colts defensive ends last season, only 195 of those remain on the roster (Kemoko Turay-100, Ben Banogu-95).
Justin Houston (age 32) and Al-Quadin Muhammad (age 26) are free agents. Versatile up front option, Denico Autry (age 30) is also a FA.
Given the fact that the Colts were the 2nd ranked run defense and have a player like DeForest Buckner commanding such attention in the middle of their defensive front, the edge rush group was one of the more underwhelming positions on the team last season.
That’s where a player like Watt offers some intrigue.
In Indy, there’s a need to find a more disruptive presence out on the edge.
For Watt, he will be making this decision as a free agent and has to be looking for a playoff caliber team.
Watt grew up in the Midwest and his wife plays professional soccer in Chicago, so that should keep teams in this part of the country closer to the top of his wish list.
Let’s say Watt has interest in the Colts.
How much should that be reciprocated by Chris Ballard and company?
There’s little debate to Watt still being a productive player, as long as his health is cooperating.
Despite being on a defensive line that has no personnel drawing any sort of attention away from Watt (no one in the NFL received more double teams last year than Watt, per ESPN Stats & Info), the 3-time Defensive Player of the Year still produced 5.0 sacks, 14 tackles for loss, 17 quarterback hits and 7 passes defensed last season. After missing 32 games in the previous 4 seasons, Watt played the most snaps of any defensive lineman in the league last season (1,013).
Watt, who is two months younger than Justin Houston, brings a recent injury that will have many teams questioning their pursuit of him.
What the Colts must decide is if Watt under the Colts’ strength and conditioning program can reach a level of availability that Houston did the last two seasons in Indy. Before the Colts signed Houston in 2019, he had missed 21 games the previous 4 years.
The Colts were adamant that Houston working under head strength coach Rusty Jones would lead to a healthier player. They were right, as Houston didn’t miss a single game the last two years. Could Watt find the same success, while also acknowledging that his injury history of late has been more serious than Houston’s was upon arriving?
That’s a big question, but something the Colts have believed in before with an older defensive lineman.
If both players are healthy, it is not a stretch to say Watt is the more productive player than Houston, who is a guy the Colts still value.
Scheme wise, Watt hasn’t played in that similar to a defense that the Colts use, but his 3-down ability and constant motor would certainly check Matt Eberflus’ boxes.
For a decade, Watt has been the toughest defensive matchup the Colts had on their schedule.
Is this once unlikely marriage now possible?