As the Houston Texans have been in upheaval, J.J. Watt has recently been mentioned as a possible trade or cut candidate. If he becomes available, making a move for Watt would be a high risk with a potentially great reward for the LA Chargers.
With the news of Deshaun Watson’s trade request and discontent with the Houston Texans coming to light, it appears that a full rebuild may be in order for the Texans franchise. At this point, it appears to be a matter of when, not if, Watson leaves.
However, the departure of Deshaun Watson would leave several other players in limbo. One in particular that no longer would be a fit for the Texans’ franchise timeline would be J.J. Watt.
Watt is a three-time NFL defensive player of the year, but his last DPOY season came back in 2015.
By next season, Watt will be 32 years old. Clearly, Watt’s remaining productivity is limited, making him an expendable piece for the Houston Texans in the event of Deshaun Watson’s departure.
At this point, Watt should be focused on putting his efforts to get a winner over the top.
Could the LA Chargers be a team that fits that bill?
While the LA Chargers may not be the closest team to true Super Bowl contention, they may not be that far away, particularly if the Chargers can get even just the 2020 version of Watt.
In 2020, J.J. Watt had 36 solo tackles (52 combined), 5 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles.
Those numbers do not look exciting, but they are quite admirable for the number of double teams that Watt had to face in 2020, given that his two companions on the defensive line were Ross Blacklock and Charles Omenihu.
Additionally, what gets lost in those numbers is the impact that Watt had on the running game.
J.J. Watt’s 2020 performance is exactly what the Los Angeles Chargers should be seeking in a player, particularly given the new scheme that Brandon Staley is expected to bring in.
Much has been made of the transition that the Chargers seems to be in for on defense, as Staley runs a 3-4 defense as opposed to the Chargers’ familiar 4-3. This is not exactly true, as Staley does prefer to vary up his front frequently.
Staley's scheme relies upon versatility, and he mixes up fronts at an incredible rate. Picture #1: Base 3-4 Picture #2: Stack nickel (5 DB, 2 ILB, 1 OLB, 3 DL)Picture #3: Base nickel (5 DB's, 1 ILB, 2 OLB, 3 DL)Picture #4: Nascar dime package (6 DB, 1 ILB, 2 OLB, 2 DT) pic.twitter.com/ZpaljT2ETS
— Guilty As Charged Podcast (@GACPodcast17) January 19, 2021
However, even when the Los Angeles Rams’ defense was out of a traditional 3-4 alignment, most of the time, there were ever only three defensive linemen with their hand in the dirt at a time.
For such a scheme to work, those three players need to be prepared to defend against the run at any time. While pass-rushing ability is a significant bonus, run-stopping ability is a must.
Joey Bosa and Linval Joseph can fit into this 3-4 scheme well, but there is not a third guy who inspires much confidence. Justin Jones has some decent run-stopping ability, but teams will never feel threatened by his presence as a pass-rusher. Jerry Tillery has the opposite problem, as he would be a massive liability as a 3-4 defensive end against the run.
J.J. Watt would give the Chargers an excellent third player for this scheme. While Watt’s pass-rushing has taken a bit of a dip in recent years, he is still a viable pass-rushing threat while being excellent against the run.
A front of Watt, Joseph, and Bosa would give Brandon Staley the flexibility to freely disguise his rushes. He can feel far more confident leaving one player on an island while rushing several players on the other side, knowing that either Watt or Bosa is still a force when left alone.
Thinking of a 3-4 defense with the front of Watt, Joseph, and Bosa along with Brandon Staley’s scheme creativity should make fans salivate. Of course, this move comes with substantial risk.
That risk is J.J. Watt’s substantial injury history. Part of the reason that Watt’s last defensive player of the year season came in 2015 is that he has only played all 16 games in two seasons past that point in time.
However, two of those seasons came in the past three years. While Watt is an injury risk, he could be a risk worth taking.
Making this even more true is the fact that Watt is unlikely to score a long-term contract. Watt currently has one year and $17.5 million remaining on his contract.
While that number at its current level is not palatable, Watt may be willing to turn that into a two-year deal at a more manageable number per year, like $10 million. That would be a great deal if Watt can put together two more years like his 2020 season.
Again, this seems like a lot for an aging, injury-prone player, but the potential upside of Watt is massive.
The LA Chargers have an opportunity to splurge a bit on the cap while Justin Herbert is on his rookie deal. This splurge, while risky, could absolutely transform the Los Angeles Chargers defense in one season if Watt plays to the level that he showed he is still capable of in 2020.