J.J. Watt's contract situation is a new one for the league -- one for which a lot of the first-round picks from the 2011 season are the guinea pigs.
Today, our Field Yates reported the Texans have officially picked up Watt's fifth-year option. It was a no-brainer for the team, but a situation that takes a lot of power away from Watt. His option year should only be a temporary formality, on the way to the long-term extension Watt has earned.
That 2011 class signed four-year deals with fifth-year team options. That team option varies depending on where a player was taken in the draft. The way the numbers work for Watt, the 11th overall selection that year, could hurt his finances disproportionately. Watt's 2015 salary is currently scheduled to be $6.969 million. The option number for players selected 11th through 32nd is the average of the top 25 salaries at that player's position, with the exclusion of the top three salaries at that position. The top 10 have a much more favorable number -- they'd get the same value as a transition tag. The deadlines to pick up those options is May 3.
Watt's value to the Texans is much higher than the salary he'd get if he played the 2015 season on this option salary. In theory, the Texans could hang on to Watt through 2016 by using this option for 2015 and the franchise tag the next season.
But just because his contract now locks him into the 2015 season, doesn't mean he'll definitely play on this deal. As with some franchise tags, picking up Watt's option could serve as a placeholder while the team and his representatives work out an extension.
It would serve the Texans better to do that and create the harmony that would come with a long-term deal, rather than keeping him with contractual handcuffs.
Watt is still early in the trajectory of a defensive lineman's career, so the Texans would be paying for future performance, not past performance. He would not be easy to replace, having drawn disproportionate attention on every play he was part of last season, while still managing to affect offenses in a big way. He startled the league with his outrageously high sack and batted pass numbers during the 2012 season when he was named Defensive Player of the Year. Watt's instincts and motor on the field are outstanding.
Off the field, well, here's the latest.