Watt made the surprising announcement in a video posted to social media, saying he wanted fans to hear the news “directly from me.”
“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 began. “I came here 10 years ago as a kid from Wisconsin who had never really been to Texas before and now I can’t imagine my life without Texas in it.”
He continued: “Since [draft] day, I have tried to do everything in my power to work and earn your respect and try and make you proud on and off the field. You guys have given me everything and more and I can only hope that you feel like I’ve given you everything I have.”
Watt went on to recall all the incredible people he’s met and moments he’s had while playing in Houston.
“The connection is special and I will never, ever take that for granted because I know how rare it is,” he said.
Watt added that while he was “excited and looking forward to a new opportunity,” the decision to leave is “tough.”
“I just want you guys to know that I love you,” he added. “I appreciate you. I appreciate the McNair family for drafting me and giving me and giving me my first opportunity in the NFL. Thank you, Houston. I love you.”
Watt was drafted No. 11 overall by the Texans in 2011. A five-time Pro Bowler and three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Watt set several franchise records including sacks, tackles for loss, quarterback hits and forced fumbles. He has totaled 531 tackles, 61 passes defended and 16 fumble recoveries over 10 seasons.
“Change is never easy, especially when it involves the ones you love,” Texans Chair and CEO Cal McNair said in a statement posted to the team’s website. “J.J.’s impact on not only our organization, but the entire Houston community, is unlike any player in our franchise’s history.”
Watt’s departure is the latest shakeup in Houston. Quarterback DeShaun Watson is rumored to have requested a trade, despite the organization’s unwillingness to move on from him.
According to the NFL Network, Houston saved $17.5 million in 2021 cash and salary cap space by releasing Watt, who is now a free agent.