After 10 seasons as part of the Houston Texans, 2021 will see J.J. Watt play for another NFL team after inking a contract with the Arizona Cardinals. Let’s take a look at Watt’s new deal and his impact on the Cardinals’ 2021 salary cap.
Update: J.J. Watt announced on Twitter on December 27, 2022 that he’s retiring from the NFL following the 2022 NFL season.
J.J. Watt’s contract details and bonuses
On March 1st, J.J. Watt signed a two-year contract with the Arizona Cardinals. The deal is worth $31 million, with $23 million guaranteed. Of that $23 million, $20 million is guaranteed at signing, with a further $3 million guaranteed for injury. Om March 3, Ian Rapoport revealed more information regarding the details for J.J. Watt’s contract.
Watt’s contract contains a $12 million signing bonus, with a base value of $14.5 million in Year 1. Over the two years of the deal, Watt has $28 million in base value. Therefore, Watt’s contract has $3 million in incentives based on sacks.
If Watt gets 10 sacks in 2021, he receives a $1 million bonus and his contract for 2022 escalates by $1 million. If he then gets 10 sacks again in 2022, he will receive a further $1 million bonus. Until more information is known, these incentives will be treated as “not likely to be earned” (NLTBE). Therefore, they will not count against Watt’s cap number in 2021.
How will J.J. Watt’s contract affect the Cardinals’ salary cap?
Per Spotrac, J.J. Watt’s contract will count $4.9 million against the Cardinals’ salary cap in 2021. Following the signing, the Cardinals project to have around $10 million in salary cap space in 2021.
What are the Cardinals’ options with J.J. Watt in 2022 and beyond?
With more now known about the structure of J.J. Watt’s contract in Arizona, let’s look at some of the options the Cardinals will have next offseason.
What could we see when it comes to J.J. Watt’s contract in Arizona?
The structure of J.J. Watt’s contract with the Cardinals is intriguing. Of Watt’s $23 million in guarantees, $12 million is a signing bonus. There is a further $2.5 million in fully guaranteed salary in 2021. That leaves $5.5 million in guarantees for 2022, with a further $3 million becoming guaranteed on the third day of the 2022 league year.
The contract contains three void years. Therefore, Watt’s signing bonus prorates across the cap at $2.4 million in each of the next five seasons. When the deal voids ahead of the 2023 season, the Cardinals will have $7.2 million in dead money on their 2023 salary cap.
Watt then has $2.5 million in salary in 2021 and another $11.25 million in 2022. Additionally, there is a $2.25 million roster bonus due to be paid to Watt on the third day of the 2022 league year. Releasing Watt next offseason would leave the Cardinals with $15.1 million in dead money.
The only addition to that is that if Watt gets 10 sacks in 2021, the Cardinals will have to add another $1 million due to his incentive from 2021 counting against the Cardinals’ salary cap in 2022. Therefore, Watt’s dead money, if he were released, would rise to $16.1 million in 2022.
In the event the Cardinals traded Watt in 2022, they would be left with the $9.6 million in prorated signing bonus remaining on the deal. Any remaining money would then be paid by the team who traded for J.J. Watt and his contract.
However, if Watt gets 10 sacks in 2021, then the Cardinals will also have the $1 million incentive bonus remain as dead money following a trade. In that instance, the Cardinals would have Watt count for $10.6 million in dead money in 2022 if he were to be traded. The Cardinals will also have an option to extend J.J. Watt’s contract heading into the 2022 NFL season.