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Cardinals DE J.J. Watt explains decision to retire at end of 2022: 'I've known for a little while. It's the right time'

J.J. Watt announced Tuesday he's headed to retirement in just a couple of weeks.

He said Wednesday he's planned for this conclusion.

"I've known for a little while. It's the right time," Watt said in his first time speaking with reporters since announcing he was hanging it up. "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.

"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. 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."

Watt has plenty of good reasons to walk away from football, but none have to do with performance. At 33 years old, he's recorded 9.5 sacks, 14 tackles for loss, six passes defensed, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery this season. He did that after coming back from season-ending shoulder surgery in 2021; no easy feat for a player who relies on power and is nearing 35.

It was realistic to expect Watt to return in 2023 and play at a similar level. He's shown little signs of slowing down outside of injuries suffered in every odd-numbered year since 2017.

But Watt knows how he wants to be remembered, and it certainly isn't as a washed-up former star.

"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," he said.

Watt was once captured by an NFL Films camera apologizing to former Texans teammate Deshaun Watson at the end of a forgotten 2020 season, telling him "I'm sorry. We wasted one of your years." What Watt might not have yet realized was that it was all but a waste of one of his final seasons, too.

It's always been easy to identify what motivates Watt to continue playing, even after suffering a herniated disc, a tibial plateau fracture, a torn pectoral and a number of other fairly serious injuries throughout his career. When it came time to select his new NFL home, Watt unsurprisingly followed his desire to win a championship, joining a Cardinals team that was built and expected to win.

Instead, all he got was an appearance in Super Wild Card Weekend last season.

"It's extremely tough. That's definitely something that I've wrestled with in trying to put perspective on my career," Watt said. "Because there's certainly a huge part of me that's going to be sad, disappointed and frustrated that I could never get a championship. That was heavy on me for a very long time, but then I also was given perspective at point to say, look back and think about if you were a child what you accomplished and if you'd be proud of it and if you'd be thankful for it.

"That's why I say I'm walking away with nothing but love and gratitude. Did I win a championship? No. But I literally lived out a dream that millions of people would kill for. I have a job that anybody would love. I literally get to do things that I never in my wildest dreams thought I could do. I may not have a trophy, but I'm doing alright and I'm extremely thankful."

He's certainly doing just fine. Watt became a father in October when he and his wife, Kealia Ohai Watt, welcomed their son, Koa, into the world. The family brought Koa to his first NFL game last weekend, which also happened to be Watt's last home game as a professional.

Watt also had a health scare during the season that may have given him some vital perspective. Watt ended up in the hospital just weeks before the birth of his son due to an episode of atrial fibrillation that required doctors to shock his heart back into rhythm. He ended up playing that week, recording three tackles in a 26-16 win over Carolina.

With a new family at home, Watt has realized it's time to dedicate himself to them, not football.

"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.

"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 will walk away from the NFL in a couple of weeks with a career of which he can be plenty proud. It will undoubtedly lead him to a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, where Kealia and Koa will be able to smile with pride as Watt's football journey comes to a triumphant conclusion in Canton.

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