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J.J. Watt’s contract and the value of 3-4 defensive lineman

Cardinals finally get Calais Campbell’s replacement in J.J. Watt after nearly four years since his departure

Indianapolis Colts v Houston Texans Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

For over four seasons, the Arizona Cardinals have been searching for Calais Campbell’s replacement.

They took a chance on Robert Nkemdiche in the first-round of the 2016 draft but he turned out to be a bust.

In 2017, Steve Keim offered Campbell a multi-year deal worth a little over $10 million per season to stay in Arizona but that offer was not nearly good enough for arguably the best 3-4 defensive end in the NFL.

They rotated with players such as Rodney Gunter, Josh Mauro, Frostee Rucker, and many others over the years but none of them had quite the production or impact that Campbell provided in his time here.

After nearly four years, the search is over at least for the short-term future.

The Arizona Cardinals signed J.J. Watt to a two-year deal.

Even with that said, there are some people that believe that the Cardinals overpaid the future Hall of Famer.

First off, let’s not forget who J.J. Watt is.

He is a...

  • 3x NFL Defensive Player of the Year
  • 5x First-Team All Pro
  • 5x Pro Bowler
  • 2x NFL Sack Leader
  • Team Captain for multiple seasons

Watt has 101 career sacks, two interceptions, 61 passes defensed, and 25 forced fumbles in his 10 years in the NFL.

He even played tight end and caught three touchdowns. He also had an 80-yard Pick 6 in 2015.

Let’s take a look at some of the other top 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL that got paid last offseason.

Calais Campbell signed a two-year $25 million contract after being traded to the Baltimore Ravens from the Jacksonville Jaguars at the age of 33.

Cameron Heyward signed a four-year $65.6 million contract extension with the Pittsburgh Steelers at the age of 31.

Yesterday, the Arizona Cardinals signed J.J. Watt to a two-year $31 million contract at the age of 31.

Baltimore Ravens v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

If you look at all of these contracts, their values are all quite identical to each other on a yearly basis with consideration to their age.

This goes to show that 3-4 defensive ends are highly valued in the NFL and for good reason considering they are difficult to find. All the players above are respectively great in their own right. It is difficult to develop or find an elite 3-4 defensive lineman and the Cardinals can agree.

The fact that J.J. Watt can play outside linebacker or on the interior defensive line to go along with his impressive NFL resume already makes him one of the biggest steals in the offseason so far.

Vance Joseph loves dropping some of his EDGE rushers and defensive lineman into coverage. Watt brings that experience too.

Whether you label him a linebacker, EDGE rusher, defensive end, or defensive tackle, it does not matter because Watt can do it all.

People are devaluing Watt because of his health. NFL fans have a good reason to be concerned considering he missed 32 games from 2016 to 2019. However, he played all 16 regular season games last season, in 2018, and all the seasons prior to 2016.

Trust me. He will be fine.

Atlanta Falcons v Houston Texans Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Watt is not the same player that he was in his earlier days in the NFL but he remains as one of the best 3-4 defensive lineman in the league.

He was the seventh-highest graded EDGE rusher (85.4) by Pro Football Focus. Watt was also seventh in run defense (81.0) and 18th (76.6) in pass rush.

Watt’s 45 pressures and five sacks last season is better than anything the Cardinals have had from any defensive lineman over the last four seasons.

He will be more than just a dominant player for the Cardinals. Watt will be a great mentor for third-year defensive tackle Zach Allen as well as the rookies from last year in Leki Fotu and Rashard Lawrence.

In almost all the Cardinals games last season, their defensive line was a nonfactor. While their cornerbacks were getting all the heat, the defensive line was unable to generate consistent pressures to give them much help. Cornerbacks cannot cover a receiver forever.

J.J. Watt, a healthy Jordan Phillips, and hopefully a third-year jump from Zach Allen will change that.

The ability to create pressure with just four players (defensive line and All Pro Chandler Jones) is something the Cardinals have been missing on their defense for the longest time.

So let’s stop with the gibberish that the Cardinals overpaid J.J. Watt when they did not. They gave him the value that many teams in the NFL would give to a star 3-4 defensive lineman with positional flexibility.

Aside from the money side of things and needing a great defensive lineman, J.J. Watt landing with the Cardinals is a perfect fit. He reunites with Vance Joseph, who was the Texans defensive backs coach (2011-13). He runs a very similar defense to that of Wade Phillips, Watt’s defensive coordinator for three seasons. He also reunites with former Texans teammate DeAndre Hopkins.

The learning curve will certainly be a lot smaller for Watt compared to if he signed with a team like the Packers or Bills. He can get rolling right away.

The Cardinals might not be as good as the Bills or Packers yet but they were one of the most dangerous teams in the first half of the 2020 season before injuries and missed kicks caught up to them.

And last but not least...

To J.J. Watt, Welcome to the Arizona Cardinals!

NFL: SEP 13 Chiefs at Texans Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images