WATT TO DO WITH J.J.

Here's the definitive path to navigate J.J. Watt's future

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

The Houston Texans are a distant 50-1 longshot to win the Super Bowl this season with beloved, though aging and often-injured, superstar J.J. Watt holding a $17.5 million contract for 2021.

What to do after the season – or maybe before? A rational general manager would think, J.J. Watt is a Houston treasure. He is the most popular, most accomplished player ever to strap on a Texans helmet. While he spends more time on the injured list than the playing field in recent years, he is adored by fans in Houston. And when he does play, he is still effective. He still gets double and triple-teamed by opposing linemen.

The simple fact is, if general manger and head coach Bill O'Brien dares to trade or release Watt, wow, you think fans dislike O'Brien now? The entire stadium would become that guy who cursed O'Brien in the tunnel last year. Fans would boo O'Brien out of NRG Stadium during the national anthem. It would be a bad look for the Texans.

If you think that fans shook their heads when O'Brien made the Texans a laughingstock by trading DeAndre Hopkins, maybe the best receiver in the prime of his career, for a broken-down and overpaid running back and second-round draft pick … wow, wait for the blowback if O'Brien tries to unload J.J. Watt.

A rational general manager with a feel for the city would just swallow Watt's contract for 2021, which actually isn't that unreasonable given the current NFL pay scale. It's the final year of a 6-year, $100 million contract Watt signed in 2014. Looking back, Watt's been a bargain and worthy asset for the team. If Watt wants to continue playing, the Texans would be nuts not to re-sign him.

A cut-throat general manager who's won Super Bowls could release Watt, explain the reasons, take the p.r. hit, and get on with football. It's been done before. The 49'ers traded Joe Montana for a first-round pick, the Colts released Peyton Manning, Tom Brady left the Patriots as a free agent, and life went on.

But we're dealing with none of the above. O'Brien is not exactly a fan favorite here. His grouchy – and that's putting it mildly – demeanor and sour relationship with the media and fans will give him no free pass on dealing Watt away. Certainly not after the fans' furor after the Hopkins debacle. Fan support for the Texans would implode if O'Brien traded Watt for a bag of kicking tees, or unceremoniously released the greatest player in team history and an icon in Houston.

I've never seen one player hold all the cards against team management like Watt does. Sure he's on the downside of a Hall of Fame career, but $17.5 million isn't what it used to be. That may be below market value for a part-time superstar. Watt is still an effective pass rusher when he's healthy. He still gets double and triple-teamed by opposing linemen. He's also a leader in the locker room.

J.J. Watt is a Houston treasure, big man on campus, beloved by everybody. If he walked away today, his legacy is assured. He isn't on the Mount Rushmore of Houston athletes. He gets his own mountain. His accomplishments are etched in history: three time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Walter Payton Man of the Year, Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year, NFL All-Decade Team and on and on.

More important, he is a Houston hero. He represents the best of who we are. If he retires today, he will have played his entire career in Houston. The first time I met Watt, he was a rookie, standing outside a Little League field, shaking hands with fans, signing autographs, raising money for a family whose parents were killed in a car crash that left two children handicapped. The next time I saw him, he was backstage at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, getting ready to play conga drums while Jimmy Buffett sang Margaritaville.

Nobody knows Watt's politics. If he registered as an independent and ran for mayor of Houston, he wins. Governor, he wins. President, who knows?

He has endorsement deals with Subway sandwiches, Ford trucks, Gatorade, Verizon cell phones, Reebok shoes, American Family Insurance and NRG Energy. He reportedly makes $7 million in endorsements. That's quarterback money. No other defensive player comes close to Watt's endorsement value. And his commercials won't stop after he retires. Look at Brett Favre and Joe Namath. Watt could leave football now, before the risk of getting his body more seriously injured and his brain scrambled, and not miss a beat of popularity.

Watt earned his acting chops next to legendary thespian Scott McClelland in HEB commercials. He's appeared in the Bad Moms movie, and the New Girl sitcom. He's hosted the CMT Music Awards and Saturday Night Live. Now he's the star of Tag on Fox. He's made his mother Connie and brothers T.J. and Derek commercial successes. J.J. Watt has achieved the greatest honor in celebritydom – he's got an ice cream named for him in the frozen food aisle.

More important, Watt is a humanitarian, the heart and soul of Houston. When a shooter murdered children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Watt invited some of the families onto the field before a Texans game to play catch and meet the team. When eight students and two teachers were killed in another senseless shooting at Santa Fe High School, Watt offered to pay for their funerals. When Hurricane Harvey flooded much of Houston, Watt raised $40 million to feed and rebuild the lives of victims. During one Halloween, Watt dressed up as Batman and visited kids at Texas Children's Hospital.

Yeah, Bill O'Brien, go ahead and trade or release J.J. Watt. See what happens.

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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