One of the most dominant defensive NFL players in recent memory is preparing to hang up his cleats. Arizona Cardinals‘ defensive lineman J.J. Watt announced Tuesday that he plans to retire at the end of this season. He has two further games left, road contests against the Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers. Here’s his tweet announcing that:
Koa’s first ever NFL game.
My last ever NFL home game.
My heart is filled with nothing but love and gratitude. It’s been an absolute honor and a pleasure.
— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) December 27, 2022
“Koa’s first ever NFL game. My last ever NFL home game. My heart is filled with nothing but love and gratitude. It’s been an absolute honor and a pleasure,” Watt (seen above after a Dec. 13 game) tweeted, with a photo of him with his son and his wife Kealia.
Watt, 33, was a first-round pick by the Houston Texans (11th overall) in 2011, following an impressive college career. He started at Central Michigan as a tight end, then transferred to Wisconsin and became a force as a defensive end, racking up 62 tackles, seven sacks, and an interception in his junior season in 2010 and earning first-team All-American and All-Big Ten honors that year. That led to him leaving early for the NFL, and he quickly shone there; over his career (2011-2020 with Houston, then the last two seasons with the Cardinals), he has racked up (to date) 580 total tackles, 115 sacks, 191 tackles for loss, 313 QB hits, 17 fumble recoveries, and two interceptions across 149 regular-season starts. And he’s earned three NFL defensive player of the year awards (2012, 2014, 2015), five first-team All-Pro selections (2012-15, 2018), the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award (2017, for his work on Hurricane Harvey flood relief), Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year (also in 2017, shared with Jose Altuve), and much more.
Watt currently hasn’t announced anything about his post-career plans. But there would seem to be a good possibility of a media role for him if he wants it, considering his prominence on and off the field. Watt has demonstrated a strong combination of on-field success and off-field personality. And a network source told AA’s Ben Koo at one point, before Drew Brees‘ retirement and foray into broadcasting, that Brees and Watt were the two current players networks were most interested in for broadcasting roles. And Watt was often featured in HBO’s Hard Knocks In Season this year, including with this clip on his love for Sour Patch Kids:
And Watt has often received particular attention from networks, even when he’s been out with injury. ESPN featured him on E:60 in 2015, and they were roasted hard for repeatedly showing an injured Watt during a January 2017 game. And in 2020, with Watt actually coming back from injury to play, they doubled down further. To the point of micing him up.
Fucking hell. He’s mic’d up pic.twitter.com/OuUwxjJHGt
— Ben Koo (@bkoo) January 4, 2020
So ESPN (which also has 20,000 NFL analyst positions across all of their various studio properties, to say nothing of broadcast or alternate broadcast options) would certainly seem like a possibility if Watt did want to explore the media world in some way. And that could be in any number of roles. That network’s willingness to work with the Mannings on their “Places” shows and alternate broadcasts shows they don’t always have to tab people for conventional “fly into Bristol to do studio work” gigs.
But there are seemingly lots of other possibilities for someone as prominent as Watt, too. And some of those might come from the new Big Ten deals as well as the NFL, with Fox, CBS, and NBC all having some rights there beginning next year. In particular, NBC may need to staff up, as this is a new package for them beyond their previous Notre Dame coverage (which will also continue). So it’s possible to see Watt as a fit there with a large initial role, which could maybe even include both booth work on Big Ten games and studio work on their NFL coverage, similar to what they initially did with Brees. But CBS will also have some needs, especially this coming year when they’ll have both Big Ten and SEC games in addition to their NFL work. And while Fox feels largely set, a player and personality as prominent as Watt might be interesting for them (and maybe could be a NFL studio fit if Sean Payton returns to coaching). And that’s before discussions of entities like NFL Network, which also might have interest in Watt.
A notable thing with discussion of Watt as well is that while traditional networks will certainly be interested in him, there are many ways into the media world beyond that these days. And many of them can be extremely tailored to what someone wants to do. There are lots of NFL stars finding success with their own podcasts and/or video shows, including Travis and Jason Kelce‘s New Heights with Wave Sports + Entertainment, Terrell Owens and Matthew Hatchette‘s Getcha Popcorn Ready with Fubo Sports Network, Chris Long‘s Green Light and American Prodigy with Blue Wire, and many more. Watt has been a regular podcast guest, so he’s certainly familiar with options there. And even if he opts to not fully explore a media career right away, a podcast or video show on his terms might be a way to dip his toes in.
At any rate, nothing here is set in stone yet. Watt hasn’t even actually finished his playing career at the moment, and he hasn’t offered any information on what he wants to do next. But it does seem clear that a lot of corners of the media world would have interest in him. We’ll see how much interest he has in that.
[J.J. Watt on Twitter; photo from Ron Chenoy/USA Today Sports]