Texans need to start planning for life without J.J. Watt

J.J. Watt, #99, Houston Texans, (Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)
J.J. Watt, #99, Houston Texans, (Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images) /

The Texans need J.J. Watt to be great if they want to field a top-10 defense. At this stage of his career, that’s more of a wish than an actual plan.

J.J. Watt has the ability and drive to be an absolute wrecking ball on defense when he’s playing his best football. The Texans, more than any other team, understand just how good Watt can be. Unfortunately, they also know just how big a void he can leave when he’s not able to play.

Strangely, the Texans seem unwilling to plan for life without the 31-year-old defensive end. The franchise is working hard to manage his workload during the preseason in the hopes that it will better prepare him to stay healthy for a full 16-game slate in 2020. Head coach Bill O’Brien recently told reporters that Watt is doing “fine” and that no one should read too much into the fact that he’s not currently practicing with the team.

What is the future for J.J. Watt and the Texans?

The ugly truth is that Watt has missed 32 regular-season games over the last four seasons. That’s a real problem in a league that values availability almost as much as it values natural ability. Watt continues to play great football when he’s healthy, but the Texans have played more football without him than with him recently.

There’s always a chance that his body beats the odds and stays completely healthy in 2020, but the Texans shouldn’t be counting on that sort of good luck. What they should be doing is making contingency plans to help their defense not only survive but thrive even when Watt isn’t on the field.

Spending a second-round draft pick on defensive tackle Ross Blacklock is the only meaningful addition the Texans made for their front seven this offseason. He might develop into a quality starter, but the odds are stacked against him becoming a player of Watt’s quality. The Texans should have done more to future proof their 2020 season in case of a significant injury to Watt.

Instead, they’ll hope guys like Angelo Blackson, Brandon Dunn, and Charles Omenihu can grow into an above-average defensive lineman if Watt is forced to miss time. That will be a minimum requirement to keep Houston’s defense afloat if they lose their biggest star. The chances of anyone in that trio ascending to stardom are remote, at best.

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That’s why the Texans will, once again, heading into 2020 with their fingers crossed that this can be the season when Watt stays healthy. It’s a flimsy plan for a team that believes they have a chance to emerge as legitimate Super Bowl contenders.