Five-time All-Pro J.J. Watt signing with Cardinals for two years, $31M

Tempe, Ariz. — J.J. Watt has agreed to a two-year contract with the Arizona Cardinals, showing that the franchise will be aggressive once again in their push to snap a five-year playoff drought.

The team announced the deal with the free-agent edge rusher Monday. Watt was released last month by the Houston Texans, for whom he won three NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards.

A person familiar with the contract told The Associated Press that the total package is worth $31 million. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the team did not reveal any terms.

J.J. Watt. (Photo: David J. Phillip, Associated Press)

A five-time All-Pro, Watt — who turns 32 in three weeks — has been one of the NFL’s best players for a decade, but asked out in Houston, which is undergoing a roster upheaval. Watt joins another former Texans star, wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, in Arizona. Hopkins was acquired by the Cardinals in a one-sided trade a year ago.

Watt had one year remaining on a six-year, $100-million contract with the Texans.

Watt’s signing is an indication that the Cardinals are willing to spend money in their effort to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2015. They finished with an 8-8 record in 2020, losing five of their last seven games to fall just short of the postseason.

Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph can now add Watt to a group that already has veteran edge rusher Chandler Jones, who had 19 sacks in 2019 before his 2020 season was cut short by a biceps injury. The Cardinals also have young playmakers such as linebacker Isaiah Simmons and Pro Bowl safety Budda Baker.

Hopkins foreshadowed Watt’s arrival in the desert a few weeks ago on Instagram, when he posted a picture of the two players, including Watt in a photoshopped Cardinals jersey with the message “Let’s finish what we started … ”

Watt’s arrival will certainly ratchet up the pressure on third-year Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury, who wasn’t quite able to push Arizona into the postseason in 2020. Kingsbury’s known for his offensive acumen — and was brought to mentor 2019 No. 1 overall pick quarterback Kyler Murray — but now the defense might be just as important to the Cardinals’ success.

Though he has been plagued by injuries in recent years, Watt started all 128 games in which he appeared in the past 10 years after entering the league as Houston’s first-round selection, 11th overall, in the 2011 draft out of Wisconsin. In 2017, he was selected as the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year for his work in helping Houston recover from Hurricane Harvey. Watt, who long has been lauded for his humanitarian efforts, helped raise more than $40 million in hurricane relief in 2017.

He was the league’s top defensive player in 2012, 2014 and 2015. Then injuries began to slow him. He appeared in only three games in 2016 and five the next season, sidelined by back problems and then a broken leg. In 2019, Watt missed half of the schedule with a torn pectoral muscle.

He returned to play the entire 2020 season and was effective, though not dominant.

So the Cardinals likely are not getting a vintage Watt, the only player in NFL history with 20 or more sacks and 10 or more passes defended in a single season, doing it in both 2012 and 2014. He’s tied for fifth among defensive lineman in league history with six touchdowns in the regular season, including three TD catches.

He has 101 career sacks, and over the past decade leads the league in tackles for losses (172), quarterback hits (281), multi-sack games (26) and sack yards (713 1-2).

Watt began his college career at Central Michigan, before transferring to Wisconsin.

Irv Cross dies

Irv Cross, the former NFL defensive back who became the first Black man to work full-time as a sports analyst on national television, died Sunday. He was 81.

The Philadelphia Eagles, the team Cross spent six of his nine NFL seasons with, said Cross’ son, Matthew, confirmed his father died near his home in Roseville, Minnesota. The cause of death was not provided.

“All of us at CBS Sports are saddened by the news of Irv Cross’ passing,” CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus said in a statement. “Irv was a pioneer who made significant contributions to the storied history and tradition of CBS Sports and, along with Phyllis George and Brent Musburger, set the standard for NFL pregame shows with `The NFL Today.’ He was a true gentleman and a trail blazer in the sports television industry and will be remembered for his accomplishments and the paths he paved for those who followed.”

From Hammond, Indiana, Cross starred in football and track and field at Northwestern. He was drafted in the seventh round by Philadelphia in 1961, was traded to the Los Angeles Rams in 1966 and returned to the Eagles in 1969 as a player coach for his final season.

The two-time Pro Bowl cornerback had 22 interceptions, 14 fumble recoveries, eight forced fumbles and a pair of defensive touchdowns. He also averaged 27.9 yards on kickoff returns and returned punts.

Cross joined CBS in 1971, becoming the first Black network sports show anchor. He left the network in 1994, and later served as athletic director at Idaho State and Macalester College in Minnesota. In 2009, he received the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award.

“Irv was one of the finest gentleman I’ve been with,” Musburger tweeted. “We met at Northwestern where Irv played both ways for Coach (Ara) Parseghian, He later became my go-to mainstay on the NFL TODAY. No one ever had a bad thing to say about Irv. He led the way for African Americans to host NFL and other sports shows. Rest in peace my friend.”

The eighth of 15 children, Cross is survived by wife Liz; children, Susan, Lisa, Matthew and Sarah; grandson Aiden; brothers Raymond, Teal and Sam; sisters Joan, Jackie, Julia, Pat, and Gwen.

Extra points

The Houston Texans released veteran quarterback Josh McCown, likely ending his 18-year NFL career. The Texans signed the 41-year-old in November, but he did not appear in a game. 

… The Chicago Bears hired former Texas coach Tom Herman in an analyst role on Matt Nagy’s staff, his first NFL job after more than two decades of college coaching.


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