He’s considered one of the best defensive players of all time. So, like so many other football fans, you might be wondering why JJ Watt is retiring when it’s reasonable to assume he’d have another stellar year in 2023. Apparently, even the Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury had “no idea” but Watt himself said he’s “known for a while” that this was “the right time” to hang up his cleats after the Cardinal’s loss against Tampa Bay on Christmas Day, 2022.

“Happy for him. He seems like he’s in a really good place… What a tremendous player and person and an all-time great in this league,” Kingsbury said during a press conference, per Fox News. “So, to see him play the way he played the other night and then hear that, I think it’s just a special time for him, the organization, the entire NFL to kind of celebrate him these last two weeks.”

Justin James Watt, born March 22, 1989, played college football at Central Michigan and Wisconsin before he was drafted by the Houston Texans in 2011 in the first round of the draft, going as the 11th overall pick. He signed a two-year, $28 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals in 2021 and in 2022, was on track to have one of the best seasons of the last few years.

Why is JJ Watt retiring from the NFL?

Why is JJ Watt retiring from the NFL? The defensive lineman declared it’s “the right time” after looking at photos from the Cardinal’s loss against Tampa Bay on Christmas Day—the final game in what has been a disappointing season with only four wins and 11 losses. He was photographed with his wife Kealia and his infant son Koa after the game and told The Athletic: “I thought this is perfect. This is the perfect way. It’s [Koa’s] first-ever game. My last-ever home game. I’ve always done things my way from that standpoint. I really don’t want people to leak my own information, so I’ll tell my own story.”

He shared his news on social media announcing it would be his “last ever NFL home game” telling reporters after that he’d had his decision in his mind for some time. “I’ve known for a little while. It’s the right time,” Watt said, per NFL.com. “It feels like the right time. I’ve put so much into the game and the wins and the losses, the mental stress and passion that comes with it, it just weighs on you. It’s heavy, I mean it’s really heavy.”

JJ Watt

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Despite the team’s performance in the 2022 season, Watt has recorded 9.5 sacks this season, the most since 16 in his 2018 season for the Texans. But ultimately, NFL is a team sport and Watt said defeats are always difficult to stomach. “The losses are very tough to take. You live with the highs and the lows, and I’ve always said that I’d way rather live with the highs and the lows than never know in the middle. I’ve got a son now.” He continued with the reasons for his retirement, making mention of the health issues he’s had in the past year including being diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, aka an abnormal and often rapid heartbeat, in September 2022.

He wound up in the hospital just weeks before his firstborn arrived with doctors shocking his heart back into a regular rhythm. “Obviously, I had a heart scare in the middle of the year, so there’s certainly some of that that played into it. But I’m very happy and am very at peace with it,” he said. He ended up playing that week, his 138th consecutive game, recording three tackles in a 26-16 win over Carolina. “It’s been a very emotional week for my family, for my wife, for myself,” he said during the post-game press conference. “So, I’m very happy to get a win today. Obviously, I’ve had a lot of emotions, but I’ve learned to appreciate the little things even more, and so it’s nice to have a win today.”

Continuing his retirement announcement, Watt said the health scare caused him to reassess his priorities—shifting away from football to family. “I’ve added some incredible new pieces to my life with my wife and my son that certainly take a lot of my focus and my energy,” Watt said. “But the wins and the losses of every single week and the energy and the force that I put into every single week and the preparation has never changed. I think that’s honestly part of the reason that it’s time to walk away because I don’t want all my energy to go to that anymore.”

JJ Watt

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He continued: “I’m ready to not commit all my energy to that. I’m ready to watch my son grow up. I’m ready to spend more time with my wife. I’m ready for a new challenge, whatever that new challenge may be. I’m looking forward to seeing what else is out there.”

Watt went on to explain that he’d rather leave the game on a high rather than depart “limping out” and feeling like a washed-up veteran. “I’d much rather go out playing good football knowing that I could still play and knowing that hopefully people remember me playing good football than to go limping out, being forced out, and knowing that I probably should’ve done it earlier.”

As a three-time Defensive Play of the Year, Watt departs the game with an 11-year, 12-season career with 580 tackles and 111.5 sacks. He also holds the Texans’ franchise records for both sacks and forced fumbles. He’s on track to be admitted to the NFL Hall of Fame, for which he’ll be eligible in 2028. Off the field, he’s made a significant contribution to community efforts, raising over $37 million (in 19 days) in relief funds for the city of Houston when it was ravaged by Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Watt’s last game will be on January 8 against the San Francisco 49ers.

How the NFL community reacted to JJ Watt’s retirement

Those all around the sporting world took to social media to wish Watt the best after an exceptional NFL career. “Game recognize game 🤝 Congratulations on a great career, @JJWatt,” tweeted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a video of Watt and veteran quarterback Tom Brady exchanging words after a game.

JJ’s brother TJ, linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers, tweeted a GIF of Michael from The Office tearing up, while Cris Collinsworth, NFL broadcaster and former wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals wrote: “J.J. Watt played better in his last year than I did in my prime. Congrats on an amazing career.”

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