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Cardinals, J.J. Watt grade

Grading J.J. Watt’s 2-year, $31 million deal with Cardinals

J.J. Watt caused quite the stir Monday afternoon by announcing he was signing a two-year, $31 million deal with the Arizona Cardinals.

Watt had any number of potential suitors after cutting ties with the Houston Texans. He led fans on a merry chase with a series of cryptic tweets and videos. Ultimately, however, the suspense was well worth it.

The Cardinals were competitive in 2020. But, at 8-8, they did not seem to have the look of a Super Bowl contender, especially in a loaded NFC West that should see vast improvement from the San Francisco 49ers with better health.

Watt’s decision to join an up-and-comer in Arizona makes the Cardinals one of the top teams to watch in 2021 while also strengthening the division.

Is the deal a win for both sides? Time will tell. For now, however, let’s look at what it means both for Watt and the Cardinals.

Watt gets the bag

Let’s start with Watt, who did quite well for himself.

Not only did he get close to $16 million in terms of annual average value, but also managed to get $23 million of his total value guaranteed. That is a pretty nice haul for the 31-year-old, especially considering how the last couple years have gone.

Watt has an exceptional track record. He is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year and five-time All-Pro. But he also has an injury history and is coming off one of his less productive years as a pass rusher.

The Wisconsin native maximized his value. He almost certainly would have had to take a pay cut to join the likes of the Green Bay Packers or Pittsburgh Steelers.

Instead, Watt cashes out while rejoining DeAndre Hopkins and Vance Joseph in Arizona.

Watt’s Grade: A

Cardinals make the win-now move

This is an awesomely aggressive move from the Cardinals.

For starters, having both Watt and Chandler Jones on the defensive line will be a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks. Both excel at getting into the defensive backfield and making plays.

Despite notching just 5.0 sacks last year, Watt still had the eighth-highest pass rush win rate in 2020 among outside linebackers and defensive ends. He ranked sixth in run stop win rate as an edge defender.

The latter part is especially important. Arizona’s defense ranked 25th in the NFL in yards per carry allowed last season. The Cardinals need guys who can create leverage up front, and they now have that in Watt.

Indeed, Watt can have an immense impact on Arizona’s defense, a talented group also including Budda Baker and Isaiah Simmons. If the Cardinals can improve the cornerback position and both Jones and Watt are healthy, they might experience the biggest year-over-year growth of any team in football.

Arizona could be a threat in the NFC. The offense has explosive potential, more so if the Cardinals add talent at wide receiver. Now, the front seven has another marquee threat who can galvanize the defense and change the complexion of the NFC West.

Cardinals Grade: A+