Three weeks ago, defensive tackle Armon Watts was preparing to be a starter for the Vikings ahead of his fourth season in Minnesota. Watts had a breakout year in 2021, becoming an integral part of Minnesota's 4-3 defense as a talented pass rusher.
But on Aug. 30, Watts was released by the Vikings, leaving him with countless questions.
"It was a lot of uncertainty," Watts said. "I kind of was in, honestly, a dark place mentally just because I've never experienced being cut. I've only been with Minnesota and then coming into that season, earning a starting job, earning it from what I did last year production-wise, I was kind of in a dark place. It was like, well, what else do I need to prove [myself] productivity-wise? So, it was hard. It was a tough 24 hours until I got that phone call."
The phone call came from the Bears, who claimed Watts off waivers the day after his release from Minnesota. While Watts' spirits lifted when he arrived at Halas Hall and began to fit in with the team, he was still "highly disappointed" in how things ended in Minnesota, calling the process a "roller coaster."
While the Vikings transitioned to a 3-4 defense this offseason, Watts anticipated being a force in the new scheme as he was listed as a starter on the initial depth chart. Watts lived up to his potential last season, recording 5.0 sacks, 46 tackles, 10 quarterback hits and two forced fumbles. He started nine games in 2021 and played in all 17 contests.
When Watts got to Chicago, only 11 days remained before the regular-season opener against the 49ers, forcing him to put the Vikings situation on the back burner. But it wasn't until his number was called last Sunday and he took his first snap as a Bear that he felt at ease.
"Mentally, it was kind of tough leading up into the game just because, you know, everything was still kind of fresh," Watts said. "I was still kind of shook, taken off guard on the whole situation. But I think once I got in there and once I started making plays, I started feeling comfortable."
Watts' production was obvious in the 21 snaps he played against the 49ers. He showed off his speed and physicality against interior linemen by recording two pressures, two run stops and two tackles.
Playing meaningful snaps in Week 1 indicated to Watts that his new team was already confident in his abilities. It built a foundation of respect between he and the organization.
"It actually meant a lot to me," Watts said. "I left the game feeling in a better place. It almost kind of didn't feel like Week 1 for me just because of how quick the turnaround was and all of the emotions I was going through. As I got out there and got comfortable, I just started playing football, just showing people that I wasn't waived because of [how I was] playing or what I was able to do."
Watts knows there's still a lot to learn and prove before becoming a key contributor for the Bears. But the defensive tackle likes a challenge.
Since starting his football career as a freshman in high school, Watts feels he's always been met with adversity. During his senior year, he committed to Arkansas, but never got a starting opportunity through four seasons with the Razorbacks.
Then as a fifth-year senior in 2018, Watts recorded strip sacks in the first two games of the season, forcing his way into the starting lineup. He finished the year with 7.0 sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss and was selected by Minnesota in the sixth round of the 2019 NFL Draft.
Much like the path of his college career, Watts had to work his way into a starting role with the Vikings. Now, Watts plans to do the same in Chicago. He's excited about the opportunity to add production to the Bears and is focused on showing his new team his success last year "wasn't just a one-time thing."
"I kind of take pride in stuff not just being given to me and working for stuff," Watts said. "So, at this point, it's kind of been the story of my career, showing what I can do then keep doing it on a consistent basis. I think last year was kind of like the highlight of my whole football career, being able to get that many sacks in the National Football League. Not a lot of D-tackles can say they did that in one year. So, this year is kind of like a big year for me and it was a little bump in the road what Minnesota did, but I'm back on track."