Watt is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year and leads the NFL in sacks, pass breakups and forced fumbles since he was drafted in 2011. He’s a future Hall of Famer -- likely the first in Texans history -- and one of the most popular players in Houston’s locker room.
After returning from a broken leg, Watt played at a high level in 2018, finishing second in the NFL with 16 sacks. He was making a big impact in 2019 as well. While Watt’s four sacks this season don’t even lead the team -- outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus has 5.5 -- Watt had a major impact. According to ESPN’s pass-rush win rate powered by NFL Next Gen Stats, Watt created the first pressure on 62 pass rushes. No other player had more than 49. And he did it while being double-teamed on 29.8% of his pass rushes as an edge rusher, which is the second-highest rate in the NFL this season.
It’s a safe bet Watt will come back in great shape from his pectoral injury -- as he has from every season-ending injury -- but it will be hard for the Texans to count on him staying healthy for a full 16-game season going forward. Watt has played more than eight games once since 2015. Can the Texans keep paying him more than $15 million a year, knowing that even if he comes back healthy, it is hard to depend on him as a building block of this defense?
While nobody is suggesting the Texans would cut Watt, after 2019 he does not have any guaranteed money remaining on the six-year deal he signed in 2014. His cap hits -- $15.5 million in 2020 and $17.5 million in 2021 -- are the highest on the team, and although the Texans have a lot of salary-cap space, Houston will likely need to spend a lot of money this offseason. The Texans didn’t re-sign Jadeveon Clowney, but quarterback Deshaun Watson and left tackle Laremy Tunsil are in line for huge deals, perhaps as soon as this offseason.
The Texans and Watt could work together to restructure Watt’s contract, extending him a season or two and adding guaranteed money to the deal while also lowering his salary and his cap hit.
While Watt has admitted in the past that he has contemplated retirement after suffering major injuries, he’s given no indication that was the case this time around. Watt is 30 years old, and if he wants to continue to play after his current contract expires in 2021, there will be plenty of suitors -- either the Texans or another team.
While Watt will continue to be a leader and an important part of the Texans even when he can’t be on the field, Houston must again figure out how to replace the production of its highest-paid player.