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J.J. Watt leaves door open for return if Texans 'absolutely need it'

Could Houston's quick rise under DeMeco Ryans conjure a Texans legend out of retirement?

Speaking at his charity softball game on Saturday, J.J. Watt said he'd already discussed that possibility with Ryans ahead of the head coach's rookie season in 2023, and that scenario remains feasible for one last time entering 2024, if needed.

"I've had 12 great years in this league and I'm very thankful to have walked away healthy and playing great," Watt said, via Brandon Scott of the Houston Chronicle. "I mean, I told DeMeco last year, I said, 'Don't call unless you absolutely need it, but if you ever do call, I'll be there.' And he knows not to call unless he absolutely needs it. This is the last year I'll tell him that, because I'm not going to keep training the way I've been training, but he knows that if he ever truly does need it, I'll be there for him. I don't anticipate that happening -- they've got a very good group."

Ryans ended the Texans' three-year playoff drought in 2023 after producing a 10-7 record that won the AFC South. The 39-year-old added a home playoff win to his stellar first year as coach, which included quarterback C.J. Stroud and defensive end Will Anderson Jr. earning Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year honors.

The Texans' meteoric rise under Ryans has similarities to Watt's arrival in 2011, when the former first-round pick brought instant success to a young franchise that had yet to produce a postseason appearance. The pair also shared the field in that 2011 campaign when Houston earned its first divisional title during Watt's rookie season.

Watt went on to become a dominant defensive force in Houston, producing 74.5 sacks, 15 forced fumbles, an interception and 299 tackles while earning three Defensive Player of the Year awards within his first five seasons. A back injury in 2016 halted Watt's incredible early-career run, but he'd return to form in 2018 to produce his fifth All-Pro season and bring another AFC South title to Houston.

After a two-year stint with the Arizona Cardinals, Watt retired following the 2022 campaign after 12 seasons in the NFL. He'd finish with 114.5 sacks (24th all-time), 195 tackles for loss and 25 forced fumbles, and is now destined for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Houston wasted no time inducting its all-time sack leader into the Texans' Ring of Honor last year, but now another homecoming looms with Watt leaving the door open for a potential return. However, it's a comeback Watt hopes isn't necessary for Ryans' rising Texans.

"I very much don't want that to ever be the case," he said. "Yes, I hope that everyone stays extremely healthy and they dominate, and they don't need any other bodies and I can just watch and enjoy it from the couch."

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