Three-time Defensive Player of the Year JJ Watt stunned fans on Friday by announcing that he had asked for his release from the Houston Texans. He and the team mutually agreed to part ways, making him immediately available for any other NFL team. Here is how we arrived at this point.
The 2020 Texans season was one defined by struggles and dysfunction. The team traded star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, started the season 0-4, fired Bill O'Brien, and then only won one game prior to the Week 8 bye. Issues continued on both offense and defense en route to a 4-12 season in which rumors circulated about Watt playing his last down as a member of the team. Following the final game, the star defensive end apologized to quarterback Deshaun Watson for "wasting" a season of his career.
Houston, I wanted you to hear this directly from me... pic.twitter.com/YqT3P6Lb6l— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) February 12, 2021
One particular incident sparked comments prior to O'Brien's firing. Multiple reporters said that Watt and the former coach got into a "verbal altercation" on the practice field that led to a players' revolt. The exact details of the incident remain unknown, but Watt reportedly called O'Brien out for his coaching ability.
Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle also said that "Bill O'Brien got into an argument with defensive end J.J. Watt and defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver on the practice field along with verbal altercations with other staff members during his final weeks as coach-general manager before being fired." Watt faced questions about the altercation and only said that he would not talk about what happened at practice. His focus at the time was on the upcoming opponent.
Since firing O'Brien, the Texans have continued to make headlines for the wrong reasons. One, in particular, is executive Jack Easterby. The character coach-turned-acting general manager became the focus of a less-than-flattering Sports Illustrated article that talked about his negative impact on the franchise. Fans called for Easterby to lose his job while many players reportedly agreed. Though owner Cal McNair kept Easterby around and made him part of the search for a new head coach and a new GM, ultimately removing Watson from the process.
The exact reason for Watt requesting his release remains between him and the McNair family. However, he is closer to the end of his career than the beginning and has openly talked about retirement in the past while recovering from multiple injuries. Leaving a rebuilding Houston team for a contender will provide the opportunity for him to pursue a championship.
Along with the reported altercation and issues in the front office, CBS Sports' Jonathan Jones wrote that "there were no plans" for Watt to play for the Texans in 2021 despite being under contract. The team opted to release him and "do right" by the franchise player instead of trying to secure draft picks in a trade. This decision confirmed that Watt will never again play for the Houston Texans after helping the team win six division titles.