After the dust settled Monday on J.J. Watt’s surprise signing with Arizona (the three-time Defensive Player of the Year reportedly chose the Cardinals over more lucrative offers from both Cleveland and Indianapolis), the focus quickly turned to Watt’s yet-to-be-determined uniform number.
Watt, whose 101 sacks ranks second among active pass-rushers (former Super Bowl MVP Von Miller leads the way at 106), has worn 99 for the entirety of his NFL career and even before that at his alma mater Wisconsin. Of course, that number has been retired by the Cardinals for quite some time. Marshall Goldberg, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, logged career totals of 2,419 yards (1,644 rushing, 775 receiving) and 16 touchdowns over his eight-year run with the Chicago Cardinals, which was interrupted by a three-year stint in the Navy during World War II. The All-Pro fullback was inducted into the Cardinals’ Ring of Honor shortly after his death in 2006.
While it initially seemed that Watt would have to change his number, Goldberg’s family, specifically his daughter Ellen Tullos Goldberg, said 99 is his if he wants it. “He has my blessings,” Ellen told TMZ. “I’m sure my father would be more than delighted for him to carry it on.”
Watt hasn’t said if he’ll take the Goldbergs up on their generous offer to have 99 unretired, though that will be sorted out soon enough. Per his Twitter account, the 31-year-old appears to have arrived in Arizona along with his wife Kealia, a striker for the Chicago Red Stars of the National Women’s Soccer League.
Under current NFL rules, defensive linemen are permitted to wear any number between 50-59 and 90-99. If the Cardinals hold firm in keeping Goldberg’s 99 out of circulation or if Watt simply prefers a fresh start with a new number, his options would include 56, 57, 91 and 93. Watt wore No. 9 throughout his high school tenure and briefly donned 82 as a freshman tight end at Central Michigan, though he won’t be permitted to wear either of those in Arizona.
The subject of uniform numbers arose earlier this offseason when Colts receiver Michael Pittman Jr. made waves by refusing to give up his No. 11 to teammate Carson Wentz, who wore that number in Philadelphia. We saw the opposite occur last year when Chris Godwin graciously relinquished his No. 12 to newcomer Tom Brady in Tampa Bay.
Watt’s decision to sign with Arizona shocked many, though maybe it shouldn’t have due to his close affiliation with former Texan DeAndre Hopkins, who he shared a locker room with for seven seasons. If they can stay healthy, the Cardinals should boast one of the league’s stronger pass-rushing units in 2021 with Watt and perennial Pro Bowler Chandler Jones anchoring Vance Joseph’s 3-4 scheme.