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Sunday’s Christmas Day loss to the Buccaneers may have been JJ Watt’s last game with the Cardinals. His emotional reaction while leaving the field seemed to be very telling about his future.
(UPDATE: J.J. WATT ANNOUNCED HIS PLANS TO RETIRE TWO DAYS AFTER THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN)
Watt has been one of the most dominant defensive players over the last decade. The 33-year-old former No. 11 overall pick out of Wisconsin has earned five First-Team All-Pro nominations, five Pro Bowl appearances, and ranks fifth among all active players in total career sacks.
In addition, he is one of just three players to be named NFL Defensive Player of the Year on three occasions. Watt is headed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and his career may not be over just yet.
At the end of this season, Watt will be a free agent. He will finish the second year of a two-year, $28 million contract with Arizona in two weeks. The Cardinals are not going to the playoffs, so the regular season finale will be the final game of his current contract.
Sunday marked the final regular season game of his current contract. It may have also been Watt’s final home game in Arizona, which led to tearful moment as he left the field at State Farm Stadium.
He, as many players have done before, took a moment to stop and look around before heading into the tunnel. The 2017 Walter Payton Man of the Year did so with tears in his eyes.
While there are a lot of scenarios that could play out, Watt’s exit seemed to say it all.
What’s next for JJ Watt?
The Cardinals do not have much depth on the defensive line. They do not really have anyone that could immediately fill the void that Watt would leave if he did not return to the team.
Arizona would likely welcome him back with open arms, even though he is nearing the end of his career. However, it may not be that simple.
First and foremost, Watt may not choose to re-sign. He is not getting any younger and a Super Bowl ring continued to evade him. Perhaps a team with a better chance to win it all would be more enticing.
His look as he walked into the tunnel would allude that may be the case.
In addition, the current Cardinals front office and coaching staff may not make the decision. Head coach Kliff Kingsbury and general manager Steve Keim could be fired, soon.
The new administration may not choose to bring back a 33-year-old defensive end. A rebuild may be more important, which would see the team let Watt seek other opportunities.
There is also the chance that Watt could retire. He and his wife celebrated the birth of their first child in October. Perhaps fatherhood and the ability to spend more time with family may lead him into retirement?
Although Watt’s production has dropped some in recent years, he is still one of the greatest defensive ends in the history of the sport. He will be able to decide where he plays next year, if he plays next year, and his pause while leaving the field on Sunday certainly looked like someone who played his last game in a Cardinals uniform.