It's rare that, as a sports fan, you get to watch an all-time great player in their prime. NFL fans of the past two decades have been lucky enough to watch a couple, like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. In the 2010s, they have also been lucky enough to see one on the other side of the field: Texans defensive end J.J. Watt.
It wasn't the career many assumed of Watt, a 2-star recruit out of high school. Scouts didn't see potential from him on offense or defense, and it wasn't until he successfully walked onto his second college team that he emerged as a great player. But since that emergence, Watt has put together a Hall of Fame career with some of the best defensive seasons in NFL history, and come back from some devastating injuries to keep playing at an elite level. He has also established himself as a beloved member of the Houston community thanks to his charity work in the area.
Watt has also, thanks to his star power, made a lot of money in the NFL, and at just 30 years old he's likely to make plenty more. How much is he worth?
J.J. Watt's Net Worth
Watt is still in the middle of a very lucrative contract extension he signed back in 2014, (six years, $100 million, $51.8 million of which was guaranteed) and as a fixture on the Texans defensive line is likely to get another one before that one ends. Whatever his worth actually is, it's a figure that is going to keep rising.
J.J. Watt's Career
For a family that now has three NFL players in it (middle son Derek Watt is a fullback for the Chargers, and youngest brother T.J. was a first-round draft pick by the Steelers in 2017), as the first one to be drafted J.J. Watt was not a highly touted high school prospect. Playing both tight end and defensive end in his home state of Wisconsin, Watt made the decision to attend Central Michigan for college. His freshman year, playing as a tight end, was an underwhelming one.
After that season, Watt transferred to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After being redshirted for the 2008 season, he debuted for the Badgers as a defensive end in 2009. Watt showed potential immediately, putting up 4.5 sacks in 13 games for a team that would make the Champs Sports Bowl and defeat Miami.
2010 was an even better season, as Watt made himself known as one of the best defensive ends in the country. He increased his sack total to seven and had 62 tackles, 21 of which were for a loss. Wisconsin made the Rose Bowl, but fell to TCU. Watt decided to declare for the NFL draft after this, rather than play his senior season.
J.J. Watt and the Texans
Watt was a first-round pick in the 2011 NFL draft, with the Texans picking him 11th overall. He started all 16 games for Houston in his rookie year, getting his first sack in his third game. His best game of the season came in a win against the Jaguars in November, getting two sacks, seven tackles and four QB hits. He would finish the regular season with 5.5 sacks.
The 2011 Texans made the playoffs, and in those two games Watt showed glimpses of the star he was about to become. He got one sack and an interception that he returned for a touchdown in a win against the Bengals, and then 2.5 sacks and 12 tackles in a loss to the Ravens.
This was just a prelude. For Watt, 2012 wasn't just a great season, it was one of the best seasons a defensive end has ever had in the NFL. Watt got at least 0.5 sacks in the first six games of the season, including a 2.5-sack game against the Broncos followed by a 2-sack game against the Titans. During the season he had two separate games with three sacks, one of which also saw him get 10 tackles against the Colts. In just his second season, Watt got 20.5 sacks and 81 tackles. He also forced four fumbles and recovered two.
Watt was one of the MVPs of a Texans team that went 12-4 and won the AFC South. In the first round the team once again faced and defeated the Cincinnati Bengals, with Watt sacking quarterback Andy Dalton once. But the defense faltered in the next round as the Patriots handily defeated them 41-28. Watt got half a sack (shared with Brooks Reed) and four tackles. For the overall season, Watt made his first Pro Bowl, made his first NFL First Team All-Pro and won NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
The 2013 season was a truly miserable experience for Texans fans. The team won the first two games of the season, but lost the final 14 as the interception-prone offense fell apart. The team as a whole struggled this season, and Watt's numbers fell from his star 2012 year. However, even a regression from 2012 made Watt one of the best defensive ends in football in 2013, with 10.5 sacks and 80 combined tackles. For this, Watt made his second consecutive Pro Bowl and was once again named First Team All-Pro.
Watt had shown in his first few years that his average seasons were better than most players' best seasons, and his best seasons were transcendent. It was in Houston's best interest to keep him around. In addition to the obvious move of picking up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract, before the 2014 season was set to begin the Texans got Watt to agree to a 6-year contract extension worth $100 million, $51.8 million of which was guaranteed. At the time, it was the biggest contract a defensive player had ever gotten in the NFL.
Watt, on the heels of his new extension, put up another historic season. It started slowly, though; through the first five games of the season, Watt had just two sacks. He followed that up with a five-game stretch where he got 7.5 sacks, at least one in each game. After failing to get a sack in a loss to the Bengals after this, Watt put together possibly the most dominant five-game stretch a defensive end has ever had. Closing out the season, Watt got two sacks against the Titans, three against the Jaguars, two against the Colts, one against the Ravens and three in a rematch with the Jaguars.
This stretch of 11 sacks in five games allowed him to finish 2014 with 20.5 sacks, the first time in NFL history a player had 20-plus sacks in multiple seasons (more impressively, Watt achieved this in his first four seasons). In addition, Watt was occasionally used as a receiver on offense and caught three touchdowns. And in a September game against the Bills, Watt intercepted a pass and returned it 80 yards for a touchdown.
His stretch toward the end of the season let the team win four of their last five to finish 9-7, but the Texans failed to make the playoffs. Still, Watt made his third straight Pro Bowl and First Team All-Pro, and won his second Defensive Player of the Year award. On the heels of such a historic season, Watt's fellow players named him the best player in the NFL Top 100 Players of 2015 list.
How does one top winning two NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards in his first four NFL seasons? Win your third in five seasons, which is what Watt did in 2015. The Texans lost the first two games of the season, but Watt amassed three sacks combined in those games. Through six games, the 2015 Texans were 2-4 and Watt had four sacks. They then lost to Miami to fall to 2-5, but Watt had two sacks and started another classically dominant stretch of games. The Texans started winning as a result; they won four straight games to go to 6-5, and Watt got 7.5 sacks in those games. Ultimately, the Texans went into the final game of the season at 8-7, needing a win against Jacksonville to make the playoffs. Watt got three sacks, and a stifling defense helped the team win 30-6, clinching the AFC South.
The team faltered drastically in the playoffs, though; four interceptions from quarterback Brian Hoyer kept the defense on the field, and Watt managed just one tackle as the team got shut out 30-0 by the Chiefs. Still, after yet another incredible season he made his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl and First Team All-Pro. And in winning his third Defensive Player of the Year award, he became just the second person to do so. The other is a player often thought to be the greatest defensive player in NFL history, New York Giants great Lawrence Taylor.
Between the 2015 and 2016 seasons, Watt got back surgery and rehabilitated to make it back in time for the first game of the season, and in his second game Watt got 1.5 sacks. But after his third game of the season, Watt was placed on the injured reserve list to get yet another back surgery. This surgery cost him the rest of the season. In his absence, the Texans went 9-7 and won the AFC South for the second consecutive year. The team defeated a Raiders team down to their third-string quarterback in the first round before losing to the Patriots.
Watt successfully returned for the start of the 2017 season with the hopes of creating a dominant defensive line opposite 2014 first overall pick Jadaveon Clowney. However, he failed to record a sack in his first five games, and in the fifth of those injured his left leg. Upon observation, it was revealed that Watt had suffered a tibial plateau fracture, and would require season-ending surgery for the second consecutive season. It was the first season in Watt's career he failed to record a sack.
There were questions about how Watt would be able to recover from season-ending surgeries that caused him to miss 24 games in the 2016-17 seasons, especially after failing to record a sack in the first two games of the season. But in game three he sacked Giants quarterback Eli Manning three times, and followed that up with two sacks in the next game against the Colts. He then recorded one sack each in the next two games against the Cowboys and Bills, respectively. By the end of the regular season, Watt had recorded 16 sacks and forced seven fumbles.
With the help of Watt's return, the Texans won the AFC South, but would lose their first game of the playoffs against the Colts. Watt finished the game with just two tackles, as well one QB hit. But when it came time to name the players that made it to the Pro Bowl and were named to the First Team All-Pro, Watt was once again there.
Watt returned to play in the first 8 games for the Texans in 2019 and notched 4 sacks. But in that 8th game he was taken out with a torn pectoral injury that kept him out for the remainder of the regular season. However, Watt made unexpectedly quick progress in rehabilitating the injury, and it was revealed that he would be able to rejoin the Texans, who won the AFC South, for their first playoff game against the Buffalo Bills. Watt was one of three Texans defenders to record a sack in the game, and the team overcame a 16-0 deficit to win 22-19 in overtime and advance.
J.J. Watt's Contract: How Much Does He Make?
Currently, Watt is in the middle of the contract extension he signed back in 2014, $10 million of which went toward a signing bonus that same year. According to Spotrac, for the 2019 NFL season Watt will be making $13 million in cash earnings. That would put his career cash earnings in the NFL at approximately $85.2 million.
After this coming season, Watt will have two more years left on his current contract, during which Spotrac estimates will see him make $15.5 million and $17.5 million, respectively. That would put his cash earnings at $118.2 million. After those years, Watt would be a free agent. But J.J. Watt is Houston royalty, and as long as he is healthy it's highly unlikely that the Texans would let him see the open market during free agency. If Watt signs another extension with the Texans, he'll be set for a massive paycheck. His first extension broke the record for defensive ends. Currently, the DE with the highest yearly average salary is DeMarcus Lawrence of the Cowboys, who got a recent contract that averages $21 million a year. It's entirely possible that Watt, one of the greats of the game and a fan favorite, will receive even more when his next extension comes.
J.J. Watt's Endorsements
Watt, as one of the biggest stars in football, has lent his name to a number of huge companies via endorsements and sponsorships.
Though many of the biggest athletes in the U.S. go toward Nike (NKE) - Get Report , Adidas (ADDYY) or Under Armour (UAA) - Get Report as their major apparel-related endorsement deal, J.J. Watt has been attached to Reebok for several years now with his line of JJ sneakers.
It's far from his only deal, though. Other companies Watt has or has had endorsement deals with include:
- Papa John's (PZZA) - Get Report
- American Family Insurance
- Verizon (VZ) - Get Report
- NRG Energy
J.J. Watt's Charity
Watt has been incredibly active in the Houston community since becoming a Texan and has extended his charity work to other ares in the U.S. as well. His foundation, the Justin J. Watt Foundation, aims to provide funding for after-school athletic opportunities for schools across the country, particularly middle schools in both Texas and Wisconsin. As of this writing, their website states that they have donated over $5.2 million to schools since its inception.
Watt's best-known charitable efforts came in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in 2017, which left much of Houston utterly devastated. Watt had initially hoped to raise $200,000 to help the city, and ended up raising over $37 million. With the help of his foundation and several other partners, Watt tweeted that in the two years since Harvey, they have helped repair and rebuild over 1,183 homes, distribute over 239 million meals and distribute 337,000 prescriptions to people who are low-income and uninsured.
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