The J.J. Watt free agency sweepstakes are over before they really got started. The star defensive lineman was released by the Houston Texans just over two weeks ago. The immediate reaction was that the Pittsburgh Steelers were the leaders in the clubhouse to sign Watt because they could offer the benefit of playing with his two brothers, an advantage no other NFL team had.
Rumors ran wild over those two weeks about where Watt would go. It came to a head on Monday morning when the Internet blew up over a supposed Watt Peleton account where he listed three teams in his bio. Watt shot that down quickly. Only hours later, he self-reported that he was signing somewhere nobody thought he would: Arizona.
The Cardinals came completely out of left field to get this deal done. They're guaranteeing him $23 million over two years, which probably helped make Watt's decision fairly easy. That's a lot of money that few Super Bowl contenders could offer. He also gets to team up with fellow Houston expat DeAndre Hopkins and a dangerous pass-rush partner in Chandler Jones. It makes monetary and football sense for the former Defensive Player of the Year.
It's still a stunning decision because nobody, and I mean nobody, linked Watt to the Cardinals prior to his announcement. John Clayton said it was down to the Packers, Bills, and Titans only last week. On Sunday, Jeremy Fowler said Watt cut down his list down to "serious contenders" only, and while that leaves generous room for interpretation I very much doubt the Cardinals were a team that came to mind when people thought about serious contenders. Ian Rapoport's most recent report merely noted that Watt was narrowing down his list of preferred destinations. Adam Schefter didn't report anything at all about rumored landing spots for Watt.
Safe to say that Watt and his camp kept a tight lid on the happenings. It is rare that a free agent of Watt's notoriety ends up with a team that he had not been linked to prior. Usually there's at least a hint that Team A is interested in Player A, even if it's just an unverified rumor and not a substantial report. Not this time. Nobody had any idea Watt was going to end up in Arizona.
That is rather hard to pull off these days with the access NFL insiders like Schefter and Rapoport are granted. Hats off to Watt for breaking his own news.