J.J. Watt released by Texans; brother T.J. appears to campaign to bring him to Steelers

CHRIS ADAMSKI
The (Greensburg) Tribune Review (TNS)
FILE - In this Jan. 3, 2021, file photo, Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (99) looks on before an NFL football game against the Tennessee Titans in Houston. Watt and the Texans have “mutually agreed to part ways,” ending the tenure of the face of the franchise and adding another huge change to an offseason filled with upheaval. (AP Photo/Matt Patterson, FIle)

The first domino fell in the sequence of events that could unite all three of the NFL's famed Watt brothers on one NFL team.

Plenty of hurdles remain, but T.J. Watt appeared to openly campaign for older brother J.J. to join him with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Three-time NFL defensive player of the year J.J. Watt was released by the Houston Texans on Friday after 10 seasons with the organization. In a video posted to his social media accounts, J.J. Watt said he asked Texans ownership for the release.

Soon thereafter, T.J. Watt — who last week came in second in the 2020 defensive player of the year voting — posted a message of a popular meme of WWE wrestler The Rock summoning someone with a "come hither"-style hand motion.

But there is plenty standing in the way of the potential of J.J. joining the Steelers — not the least of which is positional fit.

T.J. Watt is entering his fifth season with the Steelers and is due to negotiate a monster contract extension worth more than $100 million in the coming months. J.J. Watt was due $17.5 million in 2021 from the Texans under the terms of his contract, but it was not guaranteed.

The third Watt brother, Derek, signed with the Steelers this past spring. A fullback and special-teams standout, Derek Watt is several notches below his siblings in the hierarchy of NFL value. He has completed one season of a three-year, $9 million contract that has no more guarantees and has him a candidate to be released this spring.

Turning 32 next month and desperate for a run at the Super Bowl to cement his career legacy, J.J. Watt could perhaps accept less than market value, especially for the opportunity to join his brothers. The Wisconsin-native family is extremely close.

J.J. Watt is not the player he was when he was a first-team All Pro four consecutive seasons 2012-15, but he still was very effective in 2020. Watt had five sacks, two forced fumbles, a "pick-six" interception and 52 tackles. He played all 16 games for only the second time since 2015, being limited to 16 total games over parts of the other three seasons in that span.

J.J. Watt was rated as the NFL's ninth-best edge defender in 2020 by Pro Football Focus' subjective grading system ( T.J. Watt was third). ESPN Stats & Information pegged J.J. Watt 15th out of 119 qualified pass-rushers in pass rush win rate (T.J. was No. 1).

The Steelers likely will lose Bud Dupree to free agency next month. Dupree and T.J. Watt formed arguably the best edge duo in the NFL the past two seasons until an ACL in Dupree's knee was torn in December.

Rookie Alex Highsmith, though, filed in for Dupree the remainder of the season and is considered a more-than-adequate heir apparent.

But perhaps the most obvious reason standing in the way of a Watt reunion is that J.J. technically doesn't play a position of need for the Steelers. J.J. Watt's listed weight (288) is 36 pounds more than his brother and is closer to that of starting Steelers defensive linemen Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt.

J.J. Watt has been defined as a defensive lineman throughout his career. Though in the modern NFL, positional designations are nebulous, often up for interpretation and can switch from snap to snap, J.J. resembles Heyward and Tuitt more than T.J. or Dupree.

Heyward and Tuitt are considered one of the NFL's best DL duos. They are due to account for more than $29 million in salary cap space in 2021 as the second- and third-most compensated players on the team.

The Steelers are thin at defensive line though, with free-agent-to-be Tyson Alualu the only other proven commodity in the position room. Young players Carlos Davis, Henry Mondeaux and Isaiah Buggs have shown brief flashes but not consistency.

Eleven months ago, the Steelers made a surprising move in signing Derek Watt to join T.J. Though it is possible the Steelers could add Biggest Bro to the mix, it's considered highly unlikely.