The J.J. Watt era in Houston is over.
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Friday that the Texans are releasing the star defensive lineman, per a source informed of the situation.
Watt confirmed that he sat down with owner Cal McNair, asked for his release, and sides agreed to part ways. The Texans later announced the team and Watt had mutually agreed to part ways.
"Change is never easy, especially when it involves the ones you love. J.J.'s impact on not only our organization, but the entire Houston community, is unlike any player in our franchise's history," McNair said in a statement. "I told J.J. earlier this week that we will forever consider him a Texan. We take solace in knowing that this is not a goodbye but a 'see you soon.' For now, we will build upon the foundation that J.J. created here and forge ahead with our unwavering mission to bring a championship to our city, create memorable experiences for our fans and do great things for Houston."
McNair later told Rapoport that both the team and Watt felt this was the right time for a split.
"We started talking about this right after the season and we wanted to make sure we did right by him," McNair said. And to make sure he knows that it's not a goodbye, it's a so long for now. He'll always be a Texan. It's a bittersweet moment, that's my word of the day. He's always meant so much to us, and we wanted to give him the best chance to move forward and pick his next spot. This gives him time to pick his spot."
The greatest defensive player in team history, Watt was the face of the Houston franchise from the moment he was drafted in 2011. The future Hall of Famer carried the Texans' defense for years. He is one of just three players in NFL history to win three Defensive Player of the Year Awards, along with Lawrence Taylor and Aaron Donald.
In his decade in Houston, Watt compiled five first-team All-Pro honors and five Pro Bowls. Twice he led the NFL in sacks, compiling 20.5 in 2012 and 17.5 in 2015. His 101 career sacks placed him 31st all-time.
Injuries are the only thing that has slowed one of the greatest defenders of a generation. In the past five years, Watt has played in 16 games just twice, including 2020.
Watt has been one of the greatest athletes in Houston history both on and off the field, including his legendary work with Hurricane Harvey relief in 2017, which led to him earning Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year honors.
"The connection I have with the people of Houston is special, and I will never take that for granted because I know how rare it is. I just want you to know that I love you and I appreciate you," Watt said in his social media video. "I want to thank the McNair family for drafting me and giving me my first opportunity in the NFL. Thank you, Houston."
Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson -- whose own future in Houston has been a national storyline this offseason -- posted on Twitter that any team would be better off if it signs Watt.
The Texans save $17.5 million by releasing Watt, who is immediately eligible to sign with another club.
While Houston could have attempted to trade Watt for a decent haul, the team did the veteran a solid by allowing him to choose his next destination.
McNair later explained to Rapoport the decision to release Watt instead of pursuing a trade.
"There are many reasons, and I don't want to go into all of them, but we evaluate all our options and we're confident this was the right one for J.J. and the Texans," McNair told Rapoport of the decision to not trade Watt. "We mutually agreed on this and we felt it was the right thing to do for J.J. Not every decision is easy to understand, but we want to do right by our players and fans and our focus is always to bring a championship to Houston."
McNair added: "We're looking for JJ to pick a great spot, play a couple of years, and then welcome him back and celebrate him for his remarkable career with numerous All-Pro teams, leader in sacks, all his statistics. He did all the right things and created a memorable experience. That interception he had in the playoff game against Cincy almost blew the roof off the stadium. Just great, great memories and a lot of championships with him.
"That was pretty glowing right? But he deserves it."
While helping carry the Texans to the postseason a handful of times, Watt has never been further than the Divisional Round. He can now choose a club that could give him the best chance of chasing his first Super Bowl appearance.
One obvious landing spot could be Pittsburgh, where Watt brothers T.J. and Derek already play. The Steelers are in rough salary cap shape but could use D-line help. It's possible J.J. could be willing to take less to play with his brothers.
The Steelers shouldn't be the only suitors for Watt. Any team with postseason aspirations should make a call to gauge the interest of the shoo-in future Hall of Famer. Even if he's not the same player who dominates the way he did while stacking DPOY awards, Watt proved during the 2019 playoff win over Buffalo that he can still wreck games in a big spot.
It's the end of an era in Houston as the Texans continue to lose staples of the organization.
Watt's exit is the biggest yet.