Three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt was released Friday by the Houston Texans, who are struggling to keep top players after revamping their executive lineup.
Watt announced his departure in a video posted on social media to his fans in Houston and Texans owner Cal McNair confirmed the release of the player who had become the face of the franchise.
"I want you guys to hear it from me," Watt said in the message. "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."
The Texans are the only club for which Watt has played since being taken with the 11th overall pick of the 2011 NFL Draft.
Watt was named the 2017 NFL Man of the Year for helping Houston recovery from Hurricane Harvey, raising more than $40 million for relief efforts.
"You treated me like family and I truly feel like you're my family," Watt said. "I've tried to do everything I can to work and earn your respect and try and make you proud on and off the field.
"The connection is special and I will never ever take that for granted because I know how rare it is."
Watt had one year at $17.7 million remaining on his contract but is now a free agent to sign with any club he wants.
A possible interested team would be the Pittsburgh Steelers, who already have Watt's brothers T.J. and Derek on their roster.
The Texans reached the playoffs for the first time in 2011 and have made the postseason six times in Watt's tenure, but have never gone past the second round. Watt now should have the chance to play for a Super Bowl contender.
"I'm excited and looking forward to a new opportunity," Watt said. "But at the same time it's always tough to move on."
Watt, 31, has been a first-team All-Pro selection five times in his 10 NFL seasons and twice led the league in sacks, with 101 career sacks for the Texans. He won Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2012, 2014 and 2015.
"Change is never easy, especially when it involves the ones you love," McNair said in a statement. "J.J.'s impact on not only our organization, but the entire Houston community, is unlike any player in our franchise's history... we will forever consider him a Texan.
"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."
- Watson salutes Watt -
That might require a major rebuilding after a 4-12 campaign in 2020 and the request by Texans star quarterback Deshaun Watson to be traded.
"We expect him to remain a Texan," McNair said.
Watson said any team would be lucky to have Watt.
"Salute to one of the Greatest of All Time @JJWatt," Watson tweeted. "I appreciate you for all the work you put in and more importantly the person you are. Any team in the league will be better the day you out on their jersey! 1OVE my brother! MORE Glory."
David Culley, a former Baltimore Ravens assistant coach, was named the Texans' new head coach last month.
The club this week also lost team president Jamey Rootes, who resigned Wednesday in the latest departure of a major executive shakeup.
Nick Caserio was hired as the Texans' new general manager and the club also parted ways with its director of football administration, equipment manager and vice president of communications in recent weeks.