J.J. Watt was going to be a free agent after the season. The veteran defensive end let everyone know Tuesday morning that he will indeed just be free. Period.
Watt tweeted that the Christmas night game against the Buccaneers was both his newborn son's first NFL game and Watt's "last ever" home game. And with that, the sure Hall-of-Famer told the world he would be retiring.
"My heart is filled with nothing but love and gratitude," Watt wrote. "It's been an absolute honor and a pleasure."
The Cardinals have two games left, both on the road: at Atlanta and at San Francisco.
Watt has had an excellent season, leading the team with 9½ sacks. He has dominated the last couple of weeks despite the Cardinals being eliminated from playoff contention.
Watt made a splash when he came to the Cardinals, announcing out of nowhere on social media he would be signing in Arizona, so Tuesday's news made for an appropriate bookend to his two seasons in the desert.
If this is it for Watt, his first year of Hall of Fame eligibility would be 2028.
Watt's play could've earned him another good contract on the free agent market. But the timing does make sense, after Watt had battled multiple injuries in recent years, including 2021 when he played in only seven games before injuring his shoulder, and then remarkably rehabbing enough to be able to play in the Cardinals' playoff game.
Watt missed the opener this season but has played in every game since -- including one in Carolina just a couple of days after having his heart shocked back into rhythm. Watt talked that day about the emotion of going through such a situation, his baby not yet quite born.
Three times Watt was the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year, in 2012, 2014 and 2015. He was an All-Pro seven times, and was the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2017.
He, along with safety Budda Baker, has been the defensive constant this season, his play only trending up as the season winds down. Aside from the sacks, he has 14 tackles for loss, 21 quarterback hits and six passes defensed, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery (and a touchdown lost in Los Angeles on that fumble recovery because of a bad call that was overturned.)
Watt played a season-high 77 snaps against the Buccaneers (out of 81) and has had two of his best games without fellow defensive lineman Zach Allen available.
"J can still make plays," defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said last week. "He's still a guy you have to account for. With Zach not being out there, every protection (by the Broncos) was sliding to J.J. It was like a four-man slide sometimes.
"He is still a guy, if you don't account for him, he can wreck a game."
On a recent episode of "Hard Knocks," Watt talked about perspective at the end of a career. It's safe to think Watt was already aware this season could be his own finale.
"The closer I get to the end the more difficult it becomes to wrestle with the reality of how hard it is to win in this league, Watt says. "You are much more understanding of how finite your opportunities are."
Images of defensive end J.J. Watt (99) during his time with the Arizona Cardinals