Mo’ money, mo’ problems — for NFL quarterbacks. Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt signed a six-year,$100-million contract with $51.876 million in guaranteed money this offseason. And instead of resting on his laurels, the 2012 NFL Defensive Player of the Year has taken his game up a notch.
“Like I said all along, the goal is to always be great,” said Watt. “I don’t want to be that guy that people say got money and shut down. I want to work hard every day — whether it is workouts, practice, games — and improve.”
Improvement is a scary thought for the towering 6'5", 289-pound 25-year-old, who terrorized Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins during a 17–6 win that snapped the Texans’ 14-game losing streak and gave the franchise its first victory since an overtime win over the Tennessee Titans on Sept. 15, 2013.
Watt notched one sack, along with five knock-downs of RG3 (one of which resulted in an intentional grounding penalty), one fumble recovery as well as his signature “J.J. Swatt” on both a blocked extra-point attempt and pass deflection.
“I guess the only thing he didn’t do was intercept a pass and run it back,” said Texans owner Bob McNair. “J.J. was unbelievable.”
Watt’s performance in Week 1 was just the first step in proving he is worth every penny of his new deal. But, in many ways, it was also just business as usual for a defensive force who is on a Hall of Fame trajectory.
In 49 games, Watt has 37.5 sacks — including a league-leading 20.5 in 2012 — along with 28 pass deflections and eight forced fumbles. If those numbers aren’t impressive enough, take a look at Watt’s playoff stats. In four career postseason games, he’s notched five sacks, three pass deflections and an INT returned 29 yards for a touchdown.
“Watt is obviously a hell of a football player,” said Texans first-year coach Bill O’Brien. “There’s no other way to put it. He’s just a great player.”
Watt helped O’Brien win his NFL head coaching debut and ruined the first game of Washington boss Jay Gruden’s NFL head coaching career. But those who have been around the league weren’t at all surprised.
“He’s the man. He just got the hundred mil. He got it for a reason, you can see that,” said Texans safety D.J.
Swearinger, who has given Watt a new nickname. “J.J. is ‘The Hundred Mil,’ so he’s supposed to do that.”
Watt has worked hard to become the $100-million man. Rated a two-star prospect by recruiting websites Rivals and Scout, the Pewaukee (Wis.) High School product took official recruiting visits to Central Michigan, Colorado and Minnesota before signing with the Chippewas.
Watt played one season as a tight end at Central Michigan, catching eight passes for 77 yards in 2007. Unhappy with CMU, Watt decided to transfer to the University of Wisconsin.
During the time between attending CMU and UW, Watt worked as a pizza delivery man. A tall tale has grown from his days ringing doorbells and passing out pies. Legend has it that Watt was recognized by a kid inside the house on one of his delivery stops. Afterwards, an emotional Watt returned to his car and cried, vowing to get back on the field and back on track.
Although that’s a heartwarming rags-to-riches story, it’s not exactly 100 percent accurate.
“I never cried,” Watt told the Houston Chronicle. “What was going through my mind was, this kid once saw me as the greatest, someone he looked up to. When I saw the look on his face, that for that split second he didn’t see me as that anymore, that hurt. … It re-instilled the drive in me to become great again, to become that kid’s role model again.”
Watt bounced back with two solid seasons as a defensive end at Wisconsin before becoming the No. 11 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. After an award-winning start to his pro career in Houston, Watt doesn’t have to deliver pizzas anymore — unless it’s part of a national ad campaign for NFL sponsor Papa John’s.
But don’t think for a second that the change in tax bracket has changed Watt, who seems to be struggling to adjust to his unreal riches.
“I Googled, ‘What do rich people buy?’ because I don’t feel like a rich person, and I don’t really try to act like a rich person, so I don’t know what they buy,” Watt said in a postgame interview with FOX reporter Laura Okmin.
“I didn’t really like the stuff I saw, so I’m gonna stick with my humble lifestyle and just keep working out.”
It’s been said that money makes a man more of what he already was. If that’s the case, Watt is about to cement his status as the most dangerous defensive player in the game today.