HOUSTON -- J.J. Watt has won three NFL Defensive Player of the Year Awards. He’s been named first-team All-Pro five times. He’s led the NFL in sacks twice and is one shy of his 100th career sack.
But what Watt hasn’t done -- winning a Super Bowl -- stands out to him most, and the absence of a championship is especially apparent as the Houston Texans are 1-5 this season. Houston looks nothing like the team that won a playoff game in 2019 and thought they could contend with the AFC’s elite, even after an embarrassing playoff loss to the Kansas City Chiefs last January.
Before the start of the season, Watt was asked if he was worried time was running out in his career and if there was an added sense of urgency to advance past the second round of the playoffs.
“There’s always that, no matter what point you’re at in your career ever,” Watt said in August. “At some point, time runs out for everybody. That’s just a fact. I’d prefer to get things done sooner rather than later, but in terms of do I feel like this is it or the next one is it? No, I don’t think so.”
Watt, now in his 10th NFL season, has won three playoff games: one in each of his first two seasons and then again in 2019. The Texans also won a playoff game in 2016, but Watt was on injured reserve after undergoing back surgery.
“As a young guy in this league, you think you have a long time,” Watt said. “... You win a divisional title, and you think, ‘Maybe it’s next year.’ In my first two years down here, we won our first-ever division title. We won our first-ever playoff game and we made it to the second round. Then the next year you go 12-4 and you’re like, ‘OK, we’re moving in the right direction.’ And then boom, next year was 2-14. Then obviously the past six or seven years, we’ve had division titles, but not much past that.
“It’s very, very difficult in this league. The sense of urgency always has to be there.”
There’s a different kind of urgency for the Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers, the quarterback the Texans face on Sunday at NRG Stadium (1 p.m. ET, Fox). Rodgers earned a Super Bowl ring in his third year as a starter in February 2011, but he hasn’t gotten past three NFC Championship Games since. He understands Watt’s frustration.
“It’s a team sport,” Rodgers said. “It takes a lot of guys to win championships, not just offensive players but defensively, special teams, backups, role players, coaching, personnel and a lot of things have to come together. When we won ours, it was backups, guys signed off the street, people elevating their game at the right time, timely wins and then those role players who played a big part.
“So you can be a dominant player in this league, like J.J. has been for a long time, and also understand and embrace the beauty that it is a team sport and it takes a lot of guys moving in the same direction in order to get to that stage and to hold up that trophy."
That is the reason Watt and veteran receiver Randall Cobb have preached the importance of not looking at the “big picture of the season” every week, but instead focus on going 1-0 each game.
“I would say being in Year 10, you realize how valuable each year is,” Cobb said. “You really can’t take anything for granted and you’ve really got to understand that every year passes very fast. You really have to stay in the present and try to do everything you can to give yourself an opportunity.”
Not only does the Texans’ 1-5 record -- already 4 1/2 games behind the undefeated Tennessee Titans -- mean Houston is unlikely to make the playoffs, but it also means the Texans likely are several years away from being a legitimate Super Bowl contender, even with quarterback Deshaun Watson signed long-term. It might mean, despite the fact that Watt remains the face of the franchise, he might not finish his career with the Texans. Houston doesn’t even have its own first- or second-round picks for the 2021 draft.
Watt signed a six-year, $100 million contract in 2014 that does not have any guaranteed money left on it. That deal expires after the 2021 season, with Watt making $15.5 million in 2020 and owed $17.5 million in 2021.
With the trade deadline coming up on Nov. 3, it’s certainly fair to wonder if Watt’s time in Houston will end sooner rather than later, given the Texans’ need for draft picks and their potential salary-cap issues next season. However, it would likely take a huge offer for the Texans to move Watt in-season -- think, a first-round pick -- so it is more likely that the Texans will decide after this year that they can’t afford to pay Watt $17.5 million.
A contending team might believe adding Watt would put them over the top. He could decide he wants to end his career in Wisconsin with the Packers, playing for the team he grew up rooting for. Perhaps he could join his brothers, T.J. and Derek, in Pittsburgh. Both franchises are perennial championship contenders.
For now, when Watt was asked about trade rumors this week, he focused on that elusive Super Bowl he wants to bring to Houston.
“My goal since I got here was to bring a championship to the city of Houston,” Watt said. “That remains my goal until the day I’m not a Houston Texan anymore. That will always be my goal. That’s what I’m working towards. That’s what I’m working towards today, and that’s what I’ll work towards tomorrow.”