It was always going to be this way for the Arizona Cardinals this year. The Cardinals front office was planning on a big-name acquisition in attempt to push the team over the top, and to prevent jobs from being lost.
At the closure of the 2020 NFL season in Tampa, we had no idea that would be the three-time Defensive Player of the Year, J.J. Watt.
Watt was granted a release from the Texans last month. Speculation grew rampant about his next destination- from Pittsburgh to Green Bay. None included the Arizona Cardinals. In fact, the Cardinals weren’t even available to place a bet as Watt’s next team on many gambling sites.
As the national headlines highlighted more teams like the Browns and the Bills, a very small circle became aware of Watt’s serious interest in Arizona. But, even then, almost everyone thought he’d choose elsewhere.
J.J. Watt is now an Arizona Cardinal. He is one of this generation’s best football players and role models off the field. As stated by FOX Sports’ Colin Cowherd, Watt is one of the few defensive players with a brand. Everyone knows who J.J. Watt is.
Watt’s impact will go far beyond the football field for the Cardinals, but that is the focus of today. His arrival to an Arizona defense that ranked fourth in the NFL in sacks, without All-Pro Chandler Jones, poses a legitimate question.
Will the Arizona Cardinals have the NFL’s best pass rush in 2021?
The Cardinals’ sack totals without Chandler Jones were impressive, but the two largest contributors from that group will be free agents in two weeks. Haason Reddick and Markus Golden performed admirably last season, and it’s almost certain both won’t return. One, however, is very much possible.
Only teammate edge rushers to both record 50+ pressures in 2020:
Garrett (56)& Vernon (51)
Reddick (55) & Golden (55) pic.twitter.com/pCHN5H89y1
— PFF (@PFF) February 22, 2021
Reddick had a fantastic season after being ridiculed for subpar play at a position that wasn’t even his own. The Cards had been playing a natural edge rusher at inside linebacker for years.
Totaling 12.5 sacks, Reddick stepped in admirably for the injured Chandler Jones. His time at inside linebacker showed when defensive coordinator Vance Joseph would drop him into coverage on exotic blitz packages. He is a candidate for the franchise tag or a long-term extension at the right number.
Golden, on the other hand, only had three sacks, but his pressures were evident. He would be cheaper than Reddick, which could be an option for the team if they fail to reach a long-term extension.
Either way, both players are held in high regards by the Cardinals and their fans. Sadly, both of them returning does not appear to be in the plans.
With that said, the Cardinals lose an edge rusher, but gain J.J. Watt. Watt only had five sacks in 2020, but was a constant force in disrupting plays and shutting down the run. ESPN stats state Watt was double-teamed on 30% of snaps last year, as he was evidently Houston’s only star on the defensive side of the ball.
If an opposing team chooses to do that in 2021, they free up arguably the NFL’s best edge rusher in Chandler Jones, either Haason Reddick or Markus Golden, and Jordan Phillips in the interior. That is less than ideal.
Well, if they double-team Jones, that frees up Watt. There is no favorable matchup for offenses here. You had just better hope your offensive line can each win 1-on-1 for 60 minutes against some of the NFL’s elite pass rushers.
Total Pressures since 2012:
4. J.J. Watt – 625
15. Chandler Jones – 517
1,142 combined pressures are the most among all active pass-rushing duos pic.twitter.com/W64PNJfVb2
— PFF (@PFF) March 1, 2021
J.J. Watt is a massive addition for a young Cardinals team that struggled late in 2020. He will make an immediate impact on the field in a familiar Vance Joseph scheme, and will become one of the biggest faces in Arizona sports. It could also pave the way for one of the best, if not the best, pass rushes in the NFL.
Welcome to Arizona, J.J.
source: me. pic.twitter.com/1Y6okQBUy5
— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) March 1, 2021