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All-Pro DE Watt, Texans ‘mutually’ agree to split

NFL notebook

HOUSTON — J.J. Watt didn’t just play for the Houston Texans, he was the Houston Texans.

The physical embodiment of a young franchise lacking much of an identity before the burly Wisconsin kid donned that No. 99 jersey, Watt wowed the football world with his defensive prowess.

Now he’s gone, and a team already in the midst of unprecedented upheaval faces a future suddenly even more bleak.

“I have sat down with the McNair family and I have asked them for my release and we have mutually agreed to part ways at this time,” Watt said Friday in a video on social media.

The three-time Defensive Player of the Year and 2017 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year has spent his entire career with the Texans after being drafted 11th overall in 2011. The star defensive end had one year remaining on a six-year, $100 million contract.

“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,” Watt said in the video. “I just want you to know that I love you and I appreciate you. I want to thank the McNair family for drafting me and giving me my first opportunity in the NFL. Thank you, Houston.”

Houston’s franchise had been around for nine seasons before Watt’s arrival, but had little success with one winning record and never reaching the postseason. Watt’s presence helped change things immediately: Houston went 10-6 to win the AFC South in his rookie year. He led the Texans to their first playoff win that season when his interception for a touchdown put them on top for good in a 31-10 victory over the Bengals.

The Texans finished a franchise-best 12-4 the following year behind Watt’s stellar season, reaching the playoffs again. They won the division six times in his Houston years, and as his resume grew, so did the image of the Texans.

“He’s just everything that we really want to do here… epitomized,” team owner Cal McNair said. “He was a great role model for the fans and teammates and to show people how to do things and do things the right way. So he was wonderful that way.”

Along with his contributions on the field, Watt was lauded for his humanitarian efforts after raising more than $40 million for Hurricane Harvey relief in 2017.

“Simply put, there has been no person in the past decade who has made a greater impact on the Texans organization than J.J. Watt,” team co-founder and senior chair Janice McNair said.

Watt’s departure comes in an offseason in which the Texans have hired coach David Culley and general manager Nick Caserio to replace Bill O’Brien, who held both jobs and was fired after an 0-4 start in 2020. They’re also facing uncertainty at quarterback because standou t Deshaun Watson requested a trade.

Jags criticized

A group whose mission is to increase diversity in the NFL has strongly criticized the Jacksonville Jaguars and new coach Urban Meyer for hiring assistant Chris Doyle.

The Fritz Pollard Alliance cited issues involving Doyle when he worked at the University of Iowa.

“At a time when the NFL has failed to solve its problem with racial hiring practices, it is simply unacceptable to welcome Chris Doyle into the ranks of NFL coaches,” the alliance said in a statement Friday. “Doyle’s departure from the University of Iowa reflected a tenure riddled with poor judgment and mistreatment of Black players. His conduct should be as disqualifying for the NFL as it was for University of Iowa.

“Urban Meyer’s statement, ‘I’ve known Chris for close to 20 years,’ reflects the good ol’boy network that is precisely the reason there is such a disparity in employment opportunities for Black coaches.”

Elsewhere:

n Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor finished his offseason coaching staff changes by hiring former Tulsa assistant Justin Hill as running backs coach Friday.

n Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith was unharmed after he and his family were robbed at gunpoint in California earlier this week.

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