J.J. Watt injury update: Cardinals designate star defensive end to return from IR

Days before the Cardinals return to the playoffs for the first time in six years, they will receive a huge boost on defense.

Arizona announced Friday that it has designated defensive end JJ Watt to return from injured reserve. Watt can return to the active list at any time within the next three weeks, or at the end of the period.

NFL network reported Watt plans to return for the Cardinals’ first playoff game, although it remains unclear if he will be able to meet that goal.

Watt hasn’t played in a game since Week 7 against the Texans, his former team, on Oct. 24. He left the game with a shoulder injury and it was believed that he would undergo end-of-season surgery to repair it.

While he underwent the procedure and was placed on injured reserve on November 6, Watt was able to recover earlier than expected, possibly returning just in time to help his team as they begin their push into the playoffs.

Watt has been held back by injuries after a long start to his career. The outstanding defensive end played in the first 83 games of his NFL career. However, in 2016, he underwent preseason back surgery and, after appearing in the first three games, he was placed on IR and missed the rest of the year with another surgery. Within five games of the 2017 season, he suffered a broken left leg and was out for the remainder of the season.

Watt returned to playing in all 16 games of the 2018 season. He missed eight games in 2019 after undergoing surgery to repair a torn chest, but played a full season in 2020.

In his first seven games in a new uniform, Watt had yet to hit the surprising defensive numbers that Texans fans had seen earlier in his career. The 32-year-old had just one sack, 10 quarterback hits and five tackles for loss to start his career with the Cardinals.

Despite the more limited production relative to his early years in Houston, Watt remains a force on the defensive line and will add pressure to an already potent passing career. Professional soccer approach Ranks Arizona as the ninth-best pass defense in the NFL and Watt degrees at 83.1, the second highest of any player on his team.

The Cardinals will make their first playoff appearance since 2015, when they lost the conference finals to the Panthers. Arizona enters their Week 18 matchup against the Seahawks with a chance to win the NFC West, needing to beat Seattle and for the 49ers to knock out the Rams. The Cardinals last won the division in 2015, when they finished 13-3.