The most famous Houston Texan of all is now a free agent. Five-time Pro Bowler defensive end J.J. Watt will play the 2021 season elsewhere after mutually agreeing to part with the only franchise he’s ever played for. In the nearly two-decade existence of the Texans, no player is more synonymous with the franchise than Watt. With this in mind, fans have made sure to pay him back in a big way.
An introduction to the J.J. Watt Foundation
Not all of J.J. Watt’s contributions to Houston have been in a Texans uniform. In 2010, Watt formed the J.J. Watt Foundation, which is mainly dedicated to providing funding for after-school athletic programs. Most of the schools that have received funding from the foundation are in Texas and Wisconsin, where Watt attended college. However, according to the Houston Chronicle, the foundation has also reached out to schools in Alabama, Illinois, California and Indiana.
Each year, from 2013 until 2019, the J.J. Watt Foundation held an annual fundraising softball game, the Charity Classic. Watt and his Texans teammates participate in the game which usually takes place at Minute Maid Park in Houston, home of the Astros. The most recent edition to date, held in 2019, raised over $1.1 million. The 2020 Charity Classic was canceled, predictably, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After Hurricane Harvey devastated the Houston area in 2017, Watt raised close to $40 million for relief. The NFL recognized his charitable efforts by naming him the Walter Payton Man of the Year for that season.
Texans fans step up for charity
J.J. Watt was never part of a Super Bowl-winning team with the Houston Texans. However, the fans in Houston clearly haven’t forgotten his positive contributions to both the team and the city. Less than a day after he announced his departure from the Texans, fans flooded the Watt Foundation with $99 donations — in honor of his uniform number.
That being said, there may have been an ulterior motive behind some, if not most, of the donations. Watt joked in the above tweet about the possibility that Texans fans are “bribing” him to return to the team, or that fans of other teams are bribing him to join their team.
This gesture mirrors Buffalo Bills fans’ mass donations to charities in honor of opposing players. Last month, after the Bills eliminated the Baltimore Ravens from the NFL playoffs, “Bills Mafia” donated en masse to Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson’s favorite charity, Blessings in a Backpack. Two years earlier, then-Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton received a flood of donations to his foundation after his team’s victory over the Ravens propelled the Bills into the playoffs.
What next for J.J. Watt?
Unfortunately, the situation within the Houston Texans organization is so dire that all the $99 donations in the world would not lure him back.
Already, according to ESPN’s Ed Werder, multiple teams have expressed interest in the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year. The most tempting offer would have to be from the Pittsburgh Steelers. There, he would team up with younger brothers T.J. and Derek Watt, who are both campaigning for him to join the team.
While Watt would make a good fit in Pittsburgh, the more pressing concern is whether the Steelers can even afford him. The team enters the offseason $15.6 million above the salary cap and will need to perform some financial wizardry to scrape under. The last thing the Steelers need on their books is another high-priced free agent.