TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — J.J. Watt could be a terrifying presence on a football field, hunting opposing quarterbacks with unparalleled ferocity, particularly during the early 2010s with the Houston Texans.
But the 6-foot-5, 288-pounder also could be a joyful fan favorite, playing catch on the sideline with young fans in the stands before games.
Now one of the best defensive players in NFL history looks as if he’s ready to call it a career.
Watt — a three-time AP Defensive Player of the Year — indicated Tuesday that he will retire at the end of the season, posting pictures of his wife and baby on social media while writing: “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.”
The Arizona Cardinals defensive lineman and his wife, Kealia, became parents in October. Koa is the name of their son. Watt’s two brothers, T.J. and Derek, also play in the NFL for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“Unbelievable career!” Derek Watt posted on Twitter. “Can’t wait for the Hall of Fame ceremony in 5yrs! #FirstBallot #ProudYoungerBrother”
T.J. Watt simply posted a picture in reply to J.J.’s post, a shot of character Michael Scott from “The Office” TV show, smiling with tears in his eyes. T.J. Watt is a three-time All-Pro and was the AP Defensive Player of the Year for last season.
J.J. Watt, 33, was among the premier defensive players in the NFL during the early 2010s with the Houston Texans. The former Wisconsin standout was a first-round pick in 2011 and was dominant from 2012 to 2015, finishing that four-year stretch with 69 sacks, to earn all three of his AP Defensive Player of the Year awards.
Watt was solid during his rookie season, but became a star in 2012, with a stunning 20 1/2 sacks and 39 tackles for a loss. His production dipped slightly in 2013 before two more big seasons. He had 20 1/2 sacks in 2014 and 17 1/2 in 2015.
His numbers slipped during the later half of his career, largely because of injuries. He missed big chunks of time in 2016, 2017, 2019 and 2021, but has had a late-career revival with the Cardinals — his 9 1/2 sacks this season are his most since 2018.
Watt spent his first 10 seasons with the Texans, leaving in 2021 as one of the most beloved figures in the city’s sports history. His community efforts were unmatched, highlighted by raising more than $40 million for Hurricane Harvey relief, which earned him the 2017 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award.
Sports Radio 610, which is the flagship station of the Texans, set up the J.J. Watt Goodbye Hotline that received hundreds of messages. The station tweeted a 30-minute montage of the calls, with plenty of lighter fare such as the man who planned to name his twins Jay and Jae and another who sang “I Will Always Love You.”
But several men sounded as if they were choking back tears or actively weeping during their messages and one caller from Santa Fe, Texas, thanked Watt for paying for the funerals of the eight students and two teachers who died in a school shooting there in 2018.
Watt set Texans franchise records in sacks (101), tackles for loss (172), quarterback hits (281) and forced fumbles (25).
Watt has spent the past two seasons with the Cardinals. He has played some of his best football in Arizona over the past few weeks, with three sacks against the Broncos and two tackles for a loss on Christmas against the Buccaneers.
Watt’s retirement isn’t a total surprise. He had a health scare earlier this season when he had to have his heart shocked into rhythm after going into atrial fibrillation. He still played three days later in Arizona’s win over the Carolina Panthers.
“I talked to cardiologists and electrophysiologists from all over the country,” Watt said in October. “I was assured multiple times from multiple people that there was nothing else you could do. I could play like normal and something could happen the next day or never again in 20 years. So I was assured and I went back to practice on Friday and here we are.
“Obviously it’s been a very emotional week for me and my family — for my wife and for myself,” he added.
The Cardinals and Watt have two more games this season, both on the road against the Falcons and 49ers.