SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — For Mike McGlinchey, his “welcome to the NFL” moment came as a rookie back in 2018 with the San Francisco 49ers when he lined up against J.J. Watt in a joint practice in Houston and got flattened in a drill.
McGlinchey and the 49ers will now get the chance to send Watt off into retirement when they face the three-time Defensive Player of the Year in his final NFL game.
“He’s a guy that since I was in high school, I watched dominate this league. He’s a surefire Hall of Fame player,” McGlinchey said. “He’s everything that he was advertised to be and more. I’m definitely not sad that Arizona doesn’t have him any longer, but I have the ultimate respect to him and his career. Every accolade that you could ever receive, he deserves. Our game is going to miss him, but I don’t think the 49ers are going to miss him as much as the rest of the world.”
Watt was among the premier defensive players in the NFL during the early 2010s with Houston and ended his career with Arizona.
During a four-year stretch from 2012 to 2015 that was as dominant as any by a defensive player, he had 69 sacks and earned all three of his AP Defensive Player of the Year awards.
Watt was solid during his rookie season, but became a star in 2012, with a stunning 20 1/2 sacks and 39 tackles for a loss. His production dipped slightly in 2013 before two more big seasons. He had 20 1/2 sacks in 2014 and 17 1/2 in 2015.
His numbers slipped during the later half of his career, largely because of injuries. He missed big chunks of time in 2016, 2017, 2019 and 2021, but has had a late-career revival with the Cardinals — his 10 1/2 sacks this season are his most since 2018.
“He’s so talented and physically gifted,” McGlinchey said. “If you don’t come off as hard as you can to try and block this guy, he’s going to run you over. But on top of it, he has the speed, quickness and agility to turn the corner and swim you and have you fall flat on your face and avoid you and get back all in the same breath. That’s what he’s made his living on his whole career.”
Niners coach Kyle Shanahan first faced Watt as offensive coordinator in Cleveland in 2014 when Watt had one sack, three tackles for loss and caught a TD pass. Watt had another sack and three tackles for loss the following year against Shanahan when he was in Atlanta.
San Francisco has had better luck slowing him down with the Niners being one of three teams Watt has no sacks against in his career along with Houston and Chicago.
But that doesn’t lessen the respect Shanahan has for him, comparing Watt to greats such as Aaron Donald.
“He was just such a hard guy, whether it’s run or pass game, to kind of take out of the game because of where they could position him and how big and strong he was and how smart he played,” Shanahan said. “That’s why he is one of the best players I’ve seen.”