The Houston Texans and DE J.J. Watt have mutually agreed to part ways, the team announced today.
Watt is the franchise's all-time sacks leader (101.0), a three-time Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award winner (2012, 2014-15) and the 2017 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year.
"Change is never easy, especially when it involves the ones you love. J.J.'s impact on not only our organization, but the entire Houston community, is unlike any player in our franchise's history," said Texans Chair and CEO Cal McNair. "I told J.J. earlier this week that we will forever consider him a Texan. We take solace in knowing that this is not a goodbye but a 'see you soon.' For now, we will build upon the foundation that J.J. created here and forge ahead with our unwavering mission to bring a championship to our city, create memorable experiences for our fans and do great things for Houston."
"Simply put, there has been no person in the past decade who has made a greater impact on the Texans organization than J.J. Watt," said Co-Founder and Senior Chair Janice S. McNair. "J.J.'s dominance on the field was unprecedented and resulted in countless moments that will go down in Texans history. To me, what best represents J.J.'s connection to Houston is his tradition of playing catch with the fans before every home game. The number of people who wear #99 jerseys with smiles on their faces totally encapsulated J.J.'s passion for bonding with Texans fans at every possible opportunity. His commitment to the community is unlike any player in NFL history. We are forever grateful to J.J. and his family."
"The connection I have with the people of Houston is special, and I will never take that for granted because I know how rare it is. I just want you to know that I love you and I appreciate you," said Watt via a message to fans via social media. "I want to thank the McNair family for drafting me and giving me my first opportunity in the NFL. Thank you, Houston."
The Texans selected Watt with the 11th pick in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft, and he appeared in 128 games for the team across 10 seasons (2011-20). A five-time Pro Bowl selection and AP First-Team All-Pro (2012-15, 2018), Watt set franchise records in sacks (101.0), tackles for loss (172), quarterback hits (281) and forced fumbles (25) to go along with 531 total tackles, 61 passes defensed and 16 fumble recoveries. He owns the four highest single-season sack totals in team history (2012, 2014, 2015, 2018) and remains the only player in league history who has accumulated at least 15.0 percent of a single franchise's sacks.
Watt is one of only three players in NFL history to win at least three AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year Awards, doing so in 2012 and 2014-15. Since entering the NFL in 2011, he leads the league in tackles for loss (172), quarterback hits (281), multi-sack games (26) and sack yards (713.5), while ranking second in sacks (101.0). In 2020, Watt, who led the NFL in sacks twice (2012 and 2015), became the fourth-fastest player in NFL history to total 100.0 sacks, doing so in just his 120th career game.
From 2012-15, Watt logged four straight seasons with at least 10.0 sacks, including two seasons with 20.5 in 2012 and 2014. During that time, he earned six of his seven career AFC Defensive Player of the Week awards and five of his six career AFC Defensive Player of the Month awards. Watt is also the only player in NFL history with 20.0-or-more sacks and 10-or-more passes defensed in the same season (2012 and 2014), and he ranks tied for fifth among defensive linemen in league history with six regular season touchdowns, including three receiving touchdowns.
Off the field, Watt's response to the disastrous Hurricane Harvey in 2017 helped him earn the prestigious Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award. The hurricane made landfall in Houston as Watt and the Texans were away playing their third preseason game. While watching the events unfold from afar, Watt posted a video on social media announcing a fundraising campaign with a very attainable goal of $200,000, to which he intended to match the first $100,000. Little did he know that in just 19 days, he would help raise more than $37 million, a total that eventually grew to more than $41 million. Watt dedicated himself to finding organizations that applied the funds in the ways that he promised the donors and victims of the disaster. He also ensured that every dollar went directly to the people of Houston and its surrounding areas that were in need.
Watt started the Justin J. Watt Foundation while he was a junior at the University of Wisconsin in 2010 out of a desire to help underserved kids. His personal motto of "Dream Big, Work Hard" culminated into a mission that he has used to impact communities all over the country. The foundation has provided more than $6 million in funding to schools and organizations that either have insufficient funding for their youth after-school athletic programs or simply no after-school athletic programs at all.