J.J. Watt is headed for illustrious but strange company

Maximize opportunity before Watt gets wasted

Houstontexans.com

Thursday the reality of what J.J. Watt is facing really hit me. The Houston Chronicle reported Watt had a minor offseason knee surgery. The last three years prove he's far from immortal, though the once incredible career is back on track. For how long, no one knows. Then I finally realized it.

J.J. Watt is on pace to be the greatest defensive player to never play for a conference championship or a Super Bowl.

I started digging into the lists of the all-time great defenders and the best pass rushers in the game's history. Most of the players who would easily be considered a great on defense have at the very least won a Lombardi. If they haven't won the big trophy they've either played or been one game away.

Two names stick out on the all-time greats list. Deacon Jones played three postseason games all in the divisional round. Dick Butkus never played in the postseason. You have to go to 24th all-time in sacks, Pat Swilling with 107.5, to find a sack leader who hasn't at least played in a conference championship or better.

It's a line on almost every great's resume and Watt's missing it.

Watt's only 30 sacks away from the top 20 in career sacks. His three defensive player of the year awards in four years cemented an era of dominance rarely matched in NFL history. He will put on the gold jacket one day. It would be bittersweet to find himself among those greats having never played in a game with that level of importance.

Unless he plays in one.

Brian Gaine and Bill O'Brien can't mess this up or they will be accessories to a sports crime: cementing Watt's place as the all-time great without a huge game to his name. The Texans enter one of the most important offseasons in franchise history. They have to find a way to protect Deshaun Watson as he's the key to making sure Watt's schedule pushes beyond 16 games each year. It's no easy task, but go do it. Make the defense's job just a little easier with some powerful offense.

Give Watt and company just a second more too with better secondary play. Help him out with a better pass rush next to him and not just opposite him. There's so many things the Texans have to get right with their massive cap space and three picks in the top two rounds.

It won't all be Gaine and O'Brien's fault if they don't do it, however they have a chance, with Watson and the rest of this team, to make sure a truly significant game appears on the schedule for Watt. Just one conference championship appearance, then, who knows. Maybe the big one and the Lombardi trophy.

Now here's a thought that will shake all Texans fans.

If the Texans don't nail it this offseason and show the next few seasons they're not legit threats, maybe Watt fills the hole in his distinguished career elsewhere. Reggie White left in his 30's. DeMarcus Ware found glory with the Broncos after a long Cowboys career. It isn't unheard of to see one franchise's legend don another team's colors.

I'm not sure what would hurt Texans fans more. Knowing Watt never played in the biggest games with the Texans or seeing him get to one of those games with another team. It's the hope neither of those things happen. There are almost never happy endings in football, but Watt's story deserves one or more of those chapters.

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

ESPN Houston 97.5 FM
The results of Odorizzi's MRI are still unknown. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

Astros starter Jake Odorizzi was carted off with a leg injury on Monday night. Being carted off made it seem like it was a huge deal and Odorizzi could be out for quite a while. News came down from manager Dusty Baker that they “may have dodged a bullet” as he was put on the 15-day injured list. MRI results are pending, but the initial prognosis seems favorable.

Odorizzi has been very hit or miss in his tenure in Houston. He’s started and came out of the pen, but hasn’t been able to gain any level of consistency. Until recently. In his last four starts, he’s thrown 22 2/3 innings, given up 9 hits, and only surrendered 3 runs. Grown man ish. He’s made himself a valuable member of the rotation. With him sidelined, it’s time for others to step up.
Lance McCullers Jr is still about a month or so away from returning. He was switched from the 10-day to 60-day injured list on April 18. While he won’t be able to help in the short term, he should be able to help if Odorizzi is out for a long period of time.

The other starters will have to keep the consistency going. Justin Verlander is pitching like he’s trying to win another Cy Young. His 1.38 ERA would be the lowest since Bob Gibson's 1.12 ERA in 1968. I know it’s early, but that is sick through 7 starts and 45.2 innings. Nobody thought he'd come back after missing two years and be better than he was before. Framber Valdez and Luis GarcÍa have 2.93 and 2.94 ERAs respectively. At 28 and 25 years old, they’re two of the guys that’ll hopefully hold down the rotation for years to come. As good as they've both pitched, they'll be expected to keep and exceed the threshold they've set so far.

The two guys I’m mainly looking to step it up are José Urquidy and Cristian Javier. Both guys have youth on their side. Javier has been bounced between the rotation and the pen. Urquidy has seen some regular and postseason success but hasn't solidified himself because of his inconsistencies. While Urquidy has made the most of the chances both have been given, Javier has the potential to be good in either role. I would love to see him in the long relief role with some spot starts and/or opener gigs whenever the rotation is thrown out of whack. That role is just as, if not more, valuable than the back end of the rotation guys.

Having this many guys that can be counted on that have shown they're capable is a luxury. Health will continue to play a part in this team's potential because of the vets that mean so much to their success. If these young pitchers can fill some gaps, grow into their roles, stay consistent, and continue to develop, this team will be scary. They have enough arms, now it's time for them to find their grooves and produce.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome