32-year-old defensive end J.J. Watt was something of a leftfield pick for the Arizona Cardinals earlier this year. Following the announcement of Watt’s release from the Houston Texans, a few weeks later Watt was putting pen to paper on a two-year contract in Arizona worth a guaranteed $23 million. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year is desperate to make up for lost time, having failed to feature regularly in three of the last five NFL regular seasons through injury.
A new team and a new defensive regime for Watt
Watt’s aim is to help the Arizona Cardinals reach the end-of-season playoffs for the first time in six seasons. However, persistent injury issues mean that both Watt and the Cardinals are likely to take a different approach to his conditioning through the 2021 NFL season. Despite getting through 91% of defensive snaps in his final year with Houston, the Cardinals’ defensive line coach Brentson Buckner is keen to keep Watt fresh and firing. Buckner believes Watt would be best served appearing in just two-thirds of the Cardinals’ defensive snaps this season.
It’s quite a drop when you consider Watt has averaged 88% activity in defensive snaps throughout his career. For a man that became the first NFL player to post two 20+ sack seasons to be told to stand aside for a third of his team’s defensive snaps is something Watt will take time getting used to. Nevertheless, Buckner believes in doing so he can help prolong Watt’s career. Bucker revealed his conversation with Watt, insisting his regime will enable him to “play 15 years” instead of being “broken down at the end of Year 12”.
Can the Cardinals patch up J.J. Watt into a defensive dynamo once more?
Watt’s body resembles something of a patchwork quilt, having been at the sharp end of the sport since 2011. He’s endured a string of back surgeries, abductor tears, knee problems, and even leg fractures. The Cardinals’ hierarchy believe he can still be a shrewd and dominant addition to their roster – providing he is happy to perform in rotation.
Cardinals fans that believe their team can upset the form book in the NFC West in the 2021 NFL season will soon be able to put their money where their mouth is. Governor Doug Ducey signed off on a new bill to legalize Arizona sports betting, permitting up to 20 online sportsbooks to operate within the Grand Canyon State. Already, ten of the biggest and most established US sportsbooks have partnerships in place, with the Cardinals already teamed up with Gila River Casino ahead of the NFL season launch.
The unfortunate reality for the Cardinals? They are pitted in arguably the toughest division in the NFC. The NFC West is going to be just as competitive as ever, with the Rams, Seahawks and 49ers all likely to be improved on their respective 2020 seasons. For Arizona to stand a chance, they may have to play out of their skins to win at least a handful of divisional games. Beyond their divisional schedule, clashes with the Panthers, Lions, Jaguars, and Texans should all be winnable. Keeping J.J. Watt fresh and firing could be the dynamic shift Arizona have needed to become playoff material.