J.J. Watt is now a free agent and it didn't take long for his younger brother to publicly recruit him. T.J. Watt, the NFL's leader in sacks last season, quickly responded to J.J.'s video confirming his departure from the Houston Texans. Watt spent the first 10 years of his career in Houston, where he was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year three times.
Now T.J. Watt is hoping his brother can bring that talent to Pittsburgh. The Steelers' roster also includes the youngest of the Watt brothers, fullback Derek Watt. No NFL team has ever employed three brothers at the same time, something that could happen if J.J. joins forces with T.J. and Derek in Pittsburgh.
https://t.co/HacHLcXJI6 pic.twitter.com/6ACIM6YYOZ— TJ Watt (@_TJWatt) February 12, 2021
While J.J. joining his brothers in Pittsburgh is a compelling storyline, there are tangible reasons why this makes sense for the Steelers. The Steelers will likely lose pass rusher Bud Dupree in free agency, so Pittsburgh will need someone to help replace Dupree's effectiveness. In J.J. Watt, the Steelers would be getting one of the best pass rushers in NFL history, someone who averaged more than 10 sacks a season during the first decade of his career. And while his sack totals were a little down in 2020, Watt made up for it by breaking up seven passes and recording an interception for a touchdown.
J.J. Watt's five sacks in 2020 were his lowest total (in seasons that saw him play in more than eight games) since his rookie season. That being said, his sack total would have been good for fourth on the Steelers last year, one more than Pro Bowl defensive tackle Cam Heyward. His 14 tackles for loss would have tied him for second on the Steelers with inside linebacker Vince Williams. His 17 quarterback hits would have trailed only T.J. Watt, who tallied 23 hits against quarterbacks in 2020. J.J. Watt also filled the stat sheet with 52 tackles and two forced fumbles last season.
Speaking of sacks, one reason for J.J. Watt's decline in 2020 was the fact that teams primarily focused on keeping him away from their quarterback. Whitney Mercilus, who routinely rushed opposite Watt in Houston, failed to duplicate his 2019 success that led to his four-year extension last offseason. In Pittsburgh, Watt would be complemented by several other teammates (T.J. included) that would surely give him more opportunities at getting to the quarterback. Specifically, J.J. Watt would be part of a formidable defense that will include T.J., Heyward, Williams, Stephon Tuitt, Devin Bush, Joe Haden, and Minkah Fitzpatrick, among others. One of the NFL's toughest units over the past two seasons, the Steelers' defense would be set up for more success with the addition of J.J.
Another selling point is the fact that Watt played in all 16 games in 2020 after missing half of the 2019 season with a torn pectoral. If Watt can stay on the field, he should have at least 3-5 more quality seasons left in the tank. Watt will be 32 years old before the start of the 2021 season. Reggie White, one of the greatest pass rushers in NFL history, was 32 when he signed with the Packers in 1993. White recorded 68.5 sacks in six seasons in Green Bay while helping the Packers win Super Bowl XXXI. At age 35, Dwight Freeney tallied eight sacks in 11 games with the Cardinals in 2015. Julius Peppers racked up 59.5 sacks after turning 32. These are just a few examples of pass rushers who continued to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks well into their 30s.
Leadership is another quality Watt brings to the table. The Steelers aren't devoid of good leaders, but they recently lost a significant locker room presence in center Maurkice Pouncey, who announced his retirement on Friday. With Pouncey and several other veterans (JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner) possibly leaving as well, Watt's leadership would certainly be welcomed inside the Steelers' locker room. So, too, would Watt's desire to win that elusive Super Bowl, as Pittsburgh fans are hoping to end their 12-year title drought.
J.J. Watt wouldn't solve all of the Steelers problems. Pittsburgh's pressing needs currently include upgrades on the offensive line, running back, receiver and outside linebacker. The Steelers also need to solidify their plans for Ben Roethlisberger moving forward. But J.J. Watt would bring pass rush and leadership to the Steelers. It would also increase the odds of T.J. Watt signing a long-term contract. If these reasons weren't enough, the fact that Watt is reportedly not expected to pursue a massive contract is yet another reason why the Steelers should aggressively pursue signing him.
The Steelers are familiar with signing veteran pass rushers. In 1993, they signed Kevin Greene, who helped Pittsburgh win an AFC title two years after signing with Pittsburgh. In 2016, Greene chose the Steelers as the team that represented him in the Hall of Fame. And while Watt will surely go into Canton as a Texan, he could have a similar impact in Pittsburgh while joining the Steelers' lengthy list of legendary defensive stalwarts.