JJ Watt made a shocking announcement on December 27th when he revealed his plans to retire from the NFL at the end of the 2022-23 season. The news came just two days after the Arizona Cardinals Week 16 matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He’ll go down as one of the greatest players of all time.
Watt made the announcement on Twitter, posting a photo of him, his son, and his wife at the game vs. the Bucs. “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,” he wrote – an end to an incredible career.
He later attributed his decision to mental stress, health scares, and his son. “The losses are very tough to take. I’ve got a son now. Obviously, I had a heart scare in the middle of the year, so there’s certainly some of that that played into it. But I’m very happy and am very at peace with it,” said JJ Watt.
A Look Back at 12 Years of Absolute Greatness for JJ Watt
With JJ Watt announcing his retirement, there’s no question he’ll be a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2028 – players must wait at least five years before being nominated. He’s going down as one of the greatest defensive players of all time and it’s not just because of his success on the field, but off the field, too.
On the field, he has 581 tackles, 192 tackles for loss, 112.5 sacks, 1 safety, 27 forced fumbles, 2 INTs, and 2 defensive touchdowns in 150 games played – he has one more game on January 8th. He’s a five-time Pro Bowler, 5-time All-Pro defensive end, and three-time Defensive Player of the Year.
Off the field, JJ Watt has exemplified and embodied what it means to be a part of a community – whether in Houston with the Texans or in Arizona with the Cardinals. He helps thousands of children and families through his Justin J. Watt Foundation and makes countless efforts to help others in various times of need.
To honor his incredible career and celebrate his upcoming retirement, let’s take a look at his NFL career through the years – starting with his rookie year in 2011 and ending with the current 2022 season.
12. 2011 Season
JJ Watt was drafted by the Houston Texans as the No. 11 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. He was coming off a three-year collegiate career, two of which were spent with the Wisconsin Badgers – he had 36.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks in 26 games with the Badgers before declaring for the draft.
Watt made his NFL debut on September 11, 2011, in a game against the Indianapolis Colts – he finished with five tackles and one fumble recovery. He recorded his first career sack in Week 3 against the New Orleans Saints and had his first multi-sack game on November 27th. He was gleaming with potential.
He went on to finish the 2011 season with 56 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 19 QB hits, 4 passes defended, and 2 fumble recoveries. He helped lead the Texans to their first-ever playoff berth and playoff win in franchise history – he had 3.5 sacks, 4 tackles for loss, and an INT returns TD in two playoff games.
11. 2012 Season
JJ Watt showed glimpses of superstar ability during his rookie year, especially in the playoffs, but he officially broke onto the scene in 2012 – arguably the most impressive season of any defensive player in the history of the league. He was a man on a mission, playing at a high level game-in and game-out.
Watt recorded at least one sack (or half-sack) in all but four games – he had six games with at least 2.0 sacks, two games with 3.0 sacks, and five games with at least four tackles for loss. In Week 15 alone, he had 3.0 sacks, 10 tackles, and 6 tackles for loss. He also had four straight games with a forced fumble.
He finished the 2012 season with 81 tackles (career-high), 20.5 sacks (career- and league-high), 39 tackles for loss (career- and league-high), and 4 forced fumbles. Not only was he named a Pro Bowl and All-Pro defensive end for the first time, but he won his first (of three) Defensive Player of the Year award.
10. 2013 Season
JJ Watt joined elite status in 2012, but 2013 was a new year and new season. At 24 years old, he was now tasked with proving he can sustain that level of play long-term – all in hopes of landing that massive second contract that every NFL player dreams of. Another productive season would guarantee just that.
It wasn’t as productive of a season as 2012, but Watt still managed to finish the season with double-digit sacks for the second time in his first three years. He had two multi-sack games (Week 2 and Week 11) and went on a five-game sack streak – in which he recorded 6.0 sacks between Week 7 and Week 12.
Watt finished his 2013 campaign with 80 tackles, 21 tackles for loss, 22 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, 46 QB hits, 7 passes defensed, and 4 forced fumbles. He was selected to the Pro Bowl and named an All-Pro for the second straight season, coming in sixth place for Defensive Player of the Year voting.
9. 2014 Season
JJ Watt couldn’t repeat his historic 2012 season in 2013, but he did so in 2014 – again putting together one of the most impressive seasons by a defensive player in NFL history. It was his way of rewarding the Texans’ organization for the six-year, $100 million contract they gave him prior to the start of the season.
Much like his magical 2012 campaign, Watt recorded at least one sack in all but four games in 2014. He finished with at least 20.0 sacks for the second time in four years, becoming the only player in NFL history to do it twice. He was on an absolute tear to end the season, recording 11.0 sacks in the final five games.
All in all, Watt finished the 2013 season with 78 tackles, 29 tackles for loss, 20.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 1 INT, 1 safety, and 5 touchdowns (3 receiving, 2 defensive). He was named to the Pro Bowl and All-Pro First Team, came second in MVP voting, and won his second Defensive Player of the Year award.
8. 2015 Season
At this point of his career, JJ Watt was considered one of the best players in the league – not just among defensive players, but everyone. In just four seasons, he already accumulated 57.0 sacks and 103 tackles for loss. As for 2015, it was yet another season spent padding on those career stats of his.
It wasn’t a 20-sack-season, but it was pretty darn close as he led the league in the category with 17.5 sacks on the year. He had at least 2.0 sacks in six games, including 3.0 sacks in the regular season finale. And to think he did all of this while battling a fractured hand and groin injury most of the season.
Watt finished the 2015 season with 76 tackles, 29 tackles for loss (led NFL), 17.5 sacks (led NFL), 50 QB hits, 3 forced fumbles, and 8 passes defensed. He became the third player to win Defensive Player of the Year three times, while also being selected to his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl and All-Pro First Team.
7. 2016 Season
Five seasons in and JJ Watt had already established himself as one of the greatest defensive ends the game had ever seen. He had 74.5 sacks, 132 tackles for loss, and 209 QB hits entering the 2016 season, but his campaign was quickly put into jeopardy after having back surgery for a herniated disc in July.
Watt ultimately recovered and returned to the field in time for the Texans’ Week 1 matchup against the Chicago Bears. While he didn’t record a sack, he did record three QB hits in the Texans’ victory. He followed that up with 1.5 sacks and 2 QB hits in Week 2 before a disappointing outing in Week 3.
Prior to their Week 4 matchup with the Titans, JJ Watt was placed on injured reserve and underwent back surgery for a second time the following day. He didn’t return for the rest of the season as he prepared for a comeback in 2017. He ended the season with just 8 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1.5 sacks, and 5 QB hits.
6. 2017 Season
After playing just three games the season prior, JJ Watt was looking to come back in a major way in 2017. Unfortunately, things wouldn’t go as planned as injuries, once again, derailed his season. Despite the setbacks on the field, Watt made the most of his season by helping those in need after Hurricane Harvey.
On the field, Watt played in five games before suffering a tibial plateau fracture in his left leg in his Week 5 matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs. He finished the season with 15 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 5 QB hits, and 2 passes defensed. For the first time in his career, he failed to record a sack in a single season.
In August 2017, Hurricane Harvey devastated the Texas and Louisiana area. Watt donated $100,000 of his own money and helped generate more than $40 million in donations from others through his online efforts. He was named Walter Payton Man of the Year and Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year.
5. 2018 Season
In 2017, we saw JJ Watt prove his greatness off the field, further cementing his legacy as one of the greatest of all-time. In 2018, we saw JJ Watt return to form as he made his return to the field. For the first time since the 2015 season, he started all 16 games – he only had eight starts the previous two seasons.
Watt failed to record a sack in the first two games of the season, but had 7.0 sacks over the next four games and went on another four-game sack streak between Weeks 8 and 12. He finished the year with 16.0 sacks, becoming the second player in NFL history to record at least 15.0 sacks on four occasions.
In 16 games played, Watt had 61 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, 16.0 sacks, 25 QB hits, 4 passes defensed, and 7 forced fumbles (career- and NFL-high). He made his fifth Pro Bowl appearance and was named to the All-Pro First Team for the fifth time. He also came second in Comeback Player of the Year voting.
4. 2019 Season
JJ Watt didn’t have the start to the 2019 season that he was hoping for. Not only did his team lost 28-30 to the New Orleans Saints, but he failed to record a tackle or a QB hit – the first time he was limited to both zero tackles and zero QB hits in the same game. Don’t worry, he wouldn’t stay down for too long.
Watt had a breakout game in Week 3 vs. the Los Angeles Chargers, finishing with 2.0 sacks, 2 tackles for loss, and 6 QB hits. He combined for 2.0 sacks and 5 QB hits over the next two games and had 6 QB hits in Week 7, but suffered a torn pectoral in Week 8 – bringing his regular season to an immediate end.
After sitting out the second half of the season, he eventually made his return in time for the Texans’ January 4th playoff game against the Buffalo Bills. He had a sack and 2 QB hits in the win, but lost in the Divisional Round a week later. It was a disappointing end to what was another disappointing season.
3. 2020 Season
JJ Watt entered the 2020 season with 96.0 career sacks – just 4.0 sacks away from joining that coveted 100 club. The 31-year-old failed to record a sack in the Texans’ Week 1 matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs, but everyone knew it was only a matter of time before he got himself back on the board.
Watt recorded 2.0 sacks in Week 2 against Lamar Jackson and got his 99th sack in Week 6 against Ryan Tannehill. His 100th sack finally came in Week 8 against Jake Luton – a longer wait than he would’ve liked, but it came nonetheless. Three weeks later, he had his second career interception return TD.
Watt finished the 2020 season with just 52 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks, 17 QB hits, 1 INT, 2 fumble recoveries, 7 passes defensed, and 1 defensive touchdowns. It was a down year for him and the Texans, who finished just 4-12 on the season. It would end up being his final season in a Texans’ uniform.
2. 2021 Season
Following the end of the 2020 season, JJ Watt requested his release from the Texans – which was granted in mid-February. On March 1st, he signed a two-year, $28 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals in hopes of contending for a championship. Things seemed to be going well for a while.
Arizona was 7-0 after the first seven weeks of the season and while Watt had just 1.0 sacks at that point, he was coming off a win against his former team. Unfortunately, he suffered an injury in that Week 7 game and it was later confirmed that he would need season-ending surgery on his injured shoulder.
JJ Watt sat out the rest of the regular season – he recorded just 16 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack, 10 QB hits, 1 forced fumble, and 2 passes defensed in 7 games. He ended up returning for the playoffs on January 17th, but the Cardinals lost 11-34 to the Los Angeles Rams – another disappointing season.
1. 2022 Season
JJ Watt didn’t play in the Cardinals’ first game of the regular season, but came out swinging in Weeks 2 and 3 – recording a sack in each of the two games. He had his first multi-sack game in Week 8 with 2.0 sacks against the Vikings and had another one with 3.0 sacks against the Denver Broncos in Week 15.
On September 28, prior to the Cardinals’ Week 4 matchup against the Carolina Panthers, Watt suffered atrial fibrillation – requiring his heart to be shocked back into rhythm. Nearly a month later, JJ Watt and his wife, Kealia Ohai, welcomed their first son into the world – they named him Koa James Watt.
Two months after his son was born, Watt announced the 2022 season would be his last in the NFL. Through 15 games, he has 34 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, 23 QB hits, 1 forced fumble, and 6 passes defensed. With the Cardinals missing out on the playoffs, Week 18 will be his farewell game.
What’s Next for JJ Watt?
JJ Watt has one more game as an NFL player before officially retiring from a game he’s given his entire life to. That game will be played on January 8th against the San Francisco 49ers – an away game. He has 4.0 sacks in the past three games and has one more shot at adding to his career total of 112.5 sacks.
With retirement right around the corner, Watt is ‘ready for a new challenge, whatever that new challenge may be.’ He’s looking forward to spending more time with his family – his wife, Kealia Ohai Watt, and his newborn son, Koa James Watt – citing them as the primary reason why this is the right time to walk away.
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“The wins and the losses of every single week and the energy and the force that I put into every single week and the preparation has never changed. I think that’s honestly part of the reason that it’s time to walk away because I don’t want all my energy to go to that anymore,” Watt explained to NFL.com.
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