Does J.J. Watt make the Arizona Cardinals bonafide contenders?

J.J. Watt, Arizona Cardinals. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
J.J. Watt, Arizona Cardinals. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports /

No one had J.J. Watt signing with the Cardinals but, now that he’s heading to Arizona, are he, Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins ready to contend?

All indications were that J.J. Watt, following his release from the Houston Texans, would be looking to sign with a possible contender. So it stood to reason that teams such as the Packers, Bills and Browns were in the mix. However, there was some confusion when he eventually signed with the Arizona Cardinals on Monday.

Watt joins forces with his former teammate, wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, in Arizona and the two will hope to get the Cards back in the playoffs behind young quarterback Kyler Murray. However, that still doesn’t erase the feeling that he spurned other more obvious contenders to join a team that missed the postseason in 2020.

But when you look at the situation that Watt is heading into, it’s not hard to see why he made the decision to head to the desert.

Rather than joining an obvious contender, the soon-to-be 32-year-old signed with a Cardinals team he certainly believes he can help take the next step in their development. That begs a simple question of J.J. Watt and Arizona, though: Does this move make them legitimate contenders?

J.J. Watt and the Cardinals could be contenders but they are in a spot where they have to prove it first.

Adding Watt to the defensive front undoubtedly makes Arizona a better team. With the return of Chandler Jones, the Cards have a list of stars with Watt, Jones, Budda Baker and, if he develops properly, young Isaiah Simmons. Putting that unit opposite of Murray, Hopkins and a dangerous offense is enticing.

Having said that, the Cardinals looked like a playoff team for the opening two-thirds of last season but then faltered down the stretch, ultimately missing the postseason. They proved that they have a young quarterback, young head coach and just enough holes that they can have plenty of variance in their level of performance.

J.J. Watt will definitely help with some of that. He plugs an obvious hole on the defensive line while Arizona can also add some offensive line help in the 2021 NFL Draft. Moreover, he’s a veteran presence that can help the young roster mature throughout the season.

While that may all be true, though, this is still a Cardinals team playing in a loaded NFC West with the 49ers getting healthy, the Rams adding Matthew Stafford and the Seahawks still having Russell Wilson (for now, at least).

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That makes it a bit of an uphill climb for the Arizona Cardinals to contend and betting that they’ll be in the Super Bowl hunt is somewhat of a stretch. One thing that’s for sure, though, is that signing J.J. Watt gets them much closer to that level than they were previously.