The Kansas City Chiefs’ pass rush was one of the most dominant in the NFL through nine games in the 2013 season. Though one element can’t be pinpointed to explain the drop-off in the defensive production, the argument could be made that edge-rushing linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston–recently named the best pass-rushing duo in the league by NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks–both suffering significant injuries in the same game likely had something to do with it.
Regardless, Houston ended the season with 11 sacks, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries in just 11 games. Those numbers alone were good enough for a five-way tie for 11th place in the sack category, but if he would have remained healthy, and continued on the pace he was on, he could have ended the season in the top five.
Looking at Houston's career as a whole paints an even clearer picture. Falling to the third round in the 2011 draft—many said due to reports of a failed drug test for marijuana use at the NFL Scouting Combine—the former Georgia Bulldog edge-rusher was a steal for the Chiefs.
In just three seasons in Kansas City, Houston has racked up 26.5 sacks and 166 tackles. Entering the 2014 season on the final year of his rookie deal, he's only slated to make $1.4 million, and he's clearly outplayed that contract.
As Kansas City Star reporter Terez Paylor first reported, Houston was absent from the first day of the team's mandatory minicamp.
Houston made a statement by missing the first day of mandatory minicamp yesterday. That statement was this: He's not practicing and risking injury until he gets paid.
As the 2014 offseason got underway, it was uncertain how the Chiefs would handle the two huge contract issues hanging over the team. With quarterback Alex Smith entering the final year of his deal and Houston deserving to get paid like the superstar he has developed into, the Chiefs front office, led by general manager John Dorsey, was in a bind to get all of the deals done with little more than $2 million in salary cap space in 2014 and an ever bleaker outlook in 2015. Something had to give.
On Friday, June 13th, that "give" was the outright release of cornerback Brandon Flowers, a move that freed up just north of $7 million in cap room, giving Dorsey the power—and cash flow—he needed to start working some deals.
But what will that deal be?
The best way to estimate a pending deal is to look at what deals other athletes in similar positions make. The NFL leader in sacks last season also happened to be a veteran pass-rusher and one of the best around. Robert Mathis of the Indianapolis Colts has been getting to quarterbacks for years. He is one of the best, and he gets paid like it.
According to Rotoworld, Mathis signed a four-year extension with the Colts in 2012 worth $36 million with $17 million guaranteed. That guarantee came in the form of a $15 million signing bonus and Mathis' first-year salary. Still playing under that contract, Mathis is set to make $5 million this year.
When stacking Houston next to his peers, any Chiefs fan would hope that he will be as productive and long lasting as Mathis. While still playing at a very high level, however, Mathis is likely on the last couple of years in his career. Trying to find a quarterback hunter a bit closer to Houston's talent and age, we'd have to look to the Buffalo Bills.
Mario Williams, originally drafted by the Houston Texans with the first pick in the 2006 draft, has piled up the sacks in his career. Through eight years in the league, Williams has gotten to the quarterback 76.5 times. That's an average of nine and a half sacks per year.
After playing out his six-year rookie contract in 2011, Williams decided to test the free-agent market in the 2012 offseason. He liked what he found. Williams became a very rich man, signing a six-year deal with the Bills worth $96 million with $50 million guaranteed, according to Rotoworld. This year, Williams is slated to make $13 million as he enters the third year of that deal.
While Mathis' contract seems a bit low, Williams' deal is completely overinflated. The likely deal for Houston would be somewhere in the middle of those two. In finding the deal that fits that mold, we don't have to look any farther than the locker next to Justin Houston.
Houston's partner on the Chiefs defensive front, Tamba Hali, is scheduled to make $8.5 million on the fourth year of his contract, which expires after the 2015 season (according to the folks at Rotoworld). As the two have similar talents and production on the Chiefs defense, it is fair to expect Houston to receive a similar contract to the five-year, $57.5 million deal with $35 million guaranteed Hali currently has. Though Houston will likely make a bit more on account of his youth and longevity in the league, it won't be much higher.
Utilizing the salary cap calculator on Overthecap.com, we can simulate a likely contract for Houston based on what he's likely to command from the Chiefs. Basing his numbers on Hali's, Houston will likely end up in the $50 million range. In this case, a six-year deal worth $54.3 million with $31 million guaranteed and a $12 million signing bonus seems like a good deal. This would still leave over $7 million in cap space for a potential Alex Smith contract, which will also likely be finalized before training camp.
When all is said and done, there should be little worry about Houston's absence from a three day minicamp. Yes, he's missing time with his teammates and coaching from the defensive staff. But it's Houston's second year in the system, and risking injury while his agent tries to negotiate his payday is riskier than missing a few practices. If August rolls around and Houston is still MIA, then there'll be a problem.
But chances are he'll be a multimillionaire pass-rusher long before that ever happens.