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No Longer A Secret Why J.J. Watt Chose The Cardinals

Three-time Defensive Player of the Year wants to 'dominate' with new team

J.J. Watt and wife Kealia talk with Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill after Watt signed his contract Tuesday at the Dignity Health Arizona Cardinals Training Center.
J.J. Watt and wife Kealia talk with Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill after Watt signed his contract Tuesday at the Dignity Health Arizona Cardinals Training Center.

J.J. Watt wanted to be the one to tell the world what his new team would be, and he didn't want it leaking from a reporter, a team, a liquor-store employee or the guy sending out his Amazon order.

So when the veteran defensive end closed in on the final four or five teams of his search, he wanted to order shirts for all of them – eventually wearing one while working out for the social media post announcing his choice. But he didn't want to do it under his own name, because frankly he didn't trust someone putting the package together wouldn't figure out what he was doing.

He asked his brother's high school friend to order them with his credit card and be sent to his address, so Watt could pick them up later, the secret still safe.

"It's kind of funny, kind of stupid," Watt said Tuesday during his first press conference after signing his two-year contract with the Cardinals.

Actually, it was kind of smart, given that when Watt finally posted the picture of him lifting wearing a Cardinals' shirt, it surprised the NFL world.

"We kept it very quiet," Watt said. "There were a lot of rumors and reports. It was funny to sit back and watch it all play out. At the end when I decided Arizona was the place, we realized how quiet it had truly been on that front."

The Cardinals, however, were always in the mix, with General Manager Steve Keim reaching out early the process and various players, coaches and "non-football people whatsoever that were in my ear" wooing Watt to the desert.

There were multiple teams chasing Watt, although he did not get into details other than referring a couple of times to all the reports – some true, many false – that came out about his path to a new team.

"The recruiting pitch was strong and heavy (for the Cardinals), but at the end of the day, I told my wife, all signs just kept pointing back here to Arizona," Watt said.

"I'm not going to lie to you," he added, "it doesn't hurt when it is 65 degrees and sunny when I woke up this morning."

Cardinals cornerback Johnathan Joseph, who spent nine seasons as Watt's teammate and friend in Houston, said on Sirius XM NFL radio he had multiple conversations with Watt about his free agency and about the Cardinals.

"It's a perfect situation for him," Joseph said.

That's how Watt described it too. The money certainly doesn't hurt, a reported $23 million in guarantees over the next two seasons, but there were plenty of factors involved.

The Cardinals have a quarterback, for one, a player Watt first met when Kyler Murray was a senior in high school accepting the Gatorade Player of the Year award and Watt was on hand to present. Watt called it "wild" that the two were now teammates, but after playing with Deshaun Watson, Watt also knows how crucial a star at that position can be.

He texted Murray, "I'm here because I believe in you."

He's here because he believes in what defensive coordinator Vance Joseph – who was on the Texans coaching staff for three seasons when Watt was there – is doing, and how Watt fits neatly in what Joseph does. He's here because teaming up with Chandler Jones on the pass rush, with playmakers like Budda Baker behind him, was intriguing.

He's not here to be a splash signing with nothing behind it. He noted he saw a handful of players in the weight room, and he is eager to help teach young players like defensive linemen Leki Fotu and Rashard Lawrence.

"But make no mistake, I'm here to dominate on the field and help us win games," Watt said.

Watt wasn't shying away from expectations as a team, like when he was asked how far away the Cardinals are from winning a Super Bowl.

"How far away? A few months," Watt said. "You have to get to the season before you get to the playoffs, right? … We have one goal in mind. You don't set your goal for the championship four, five, six years down the road. You set it for this year."

Watt plans to have a big role in that.

Watt's press conference took nearly a half-hour, his answers extended and thought out. His only brief answer? When he was asked, given his age and 10 seasons in the league, how much he had "left in the tank."

Watt was blunt, his frequent smile missing as he looked into the Zoom camera.

"A lot," Watt said. "A whole lot."

Images of the All-Pro defensive end arriving at the Cardinals' facility and signing his contract.