TEMPE, Ariz. — As teams continued to court J.J. Watt during his 16-day stint as a free agent, the three-time All-Pro pass-rusher said all signs kept pointing him to the Arizona Cardinals, with whom he signed a two-year deal on Tuesday.
He picked the Cardinals on Monday from a group of “four or five” finalists after an aggressive recruitment by Arizona. Watt said “it was certainly close” when making his final decision, which he described as “difficult.”
“I give them credit; they attacked from all angles,” Watt said of the Cardinals’ recruitment during his introductory Zoom news conference on Tuesday. “There was, I think, [general manager] Steve [Keim] and [team owner] Michael [Bidwill], and everybody did a great job of, I mean, there were players, there were coaches, there were non-football people whatsoever that reached out and were in my ear and trying to convince me to come down here and tell me all the great things about it — and not only on the field, but sending me pictures of Paradise Valley and everything off the field, as well.
“So, their recruiting pitch was strong and heavy. But at the end of the day, I told my wife, you know all signs just kind of kept pointing back down here to Arizona, and in my short time here on the ground, I can tell you that I’m absolutely pleased and couldn’t be happier with my decision.”
Watt, who will turn 32 on March 22, said “there’s a lot of exciting things about what’s happening down here in Arizona,” and he specifically mentioned the Cardinals’ “young, extremely talented quarterback here who can do big things.”
Kyler Murray was among the reasons Watt cited for signing with the Cardinals. Watt texted Murray on Monday: “I’m here because I believe in you.”
— Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) March 2, 2021
Murray tweeted a photo of when the two first met in July 2015 at an event where Murray was named the Gatorade High School Athlete of the Year.
“It’s pretty wild now to be on the same team,” Watt said. “But, yeah, I’ve obviously seen his career. He’s had an unbelievable career. He’s an incredible athlete. And what he’s been able to accomplish, he’s been a winner at every stage of his life, and that’s not a coincidence.
“You’re a winner because of the way that you work and because of the aura that you give off and because of the talent that you have, and I think that he has all those things and he’s going to continue to win and continue to have success.”
Watt also said reuniting with wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, his teammate with the Houston Texans from the time Hopkins was drafted in 2013 until he was traded after the 2019 season, played a role in the Cardinals winning the Watt sweepstakes. As did Vance Joseph, the Cardinals’ defensive coordinator who was the Texans’ defensive backs coach during Watt’s first three years in the NFL.
Watt said Joseph runs a defensive scheme that’s similar to the one Watt played in under Wade Phillips in Houston — “which is a scheme I’m very familiar with and very comfortable with and excited to play in.”
The Cardinals announced Tuesday that Watt will be wearing No. 99, the same number he had with the Texans. The number has been retired in honor of Marshall Goldberg, who played for the Chicago Cardinals from 1939 to 1943 and again from 1946 to 1948 after his career was interrupted with a stint in the Navy during World War II. Goldberg’s daughter, Ellen Goldberg Tullos, gave Watt permission Tuesday to wear the number.
Watt said he didn’t know the number was retired when he picked the Cardinals and saw that no one was issued it during a quick rundown of the roster. One of his high school friends broke the news to him and told him about Goldberg’s history, which led Watt to start looking at other numbers. But when Watt woke up Tuesday morning, he read a report from TMZ, which had talked to Tullos. Watt later called Tullos to hear for himself that he could wear her father’s number.
Watt hoped a product of him wearing No. 99 is that Goldberg’s name, story and legacy become more known. Watt also offered to donate to the Marshall Goldberg Fund for Traumatic Brain Injury Research.
Watt thanked the Goldberg family via Twitter and also talked about what the family’s blessing meant in his news conference.
I want to thank the Goldberg family for their kindness in offering me the opportunity to wear #99 in Arizona which was previously retired in honor of Marshall Goldberg.
— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) March 2, 2021
“We had a great conversation,” Watt said. “She was super sweet. Said that she believes her father would be honored and she believes that her father, he was all about the players, and so she said that she thought he would want me to wear it.
“So, I’m very honored and touched that they thought of me in that way and that I can do that, so I told her that I would do everything in my power to honor him and to make him proud and make his legacy proud.”