Justin Houston has established himself as one of the best outside linebackers in the league. Now, he wants the Kansas City Chiefs to pay him like one. Houston didn’t show up to any “voluntary” offseason workouts or the first two days of mandatory minicamp, according to ESPN’s Adam Teicher. Barring a huge surprise, Houston will miss the final day of minicamp Thursday and be subject to a total fine of more than $60,000.
It’s not as if this situation has come as a surprise to general manager John Dorsey, who has been preparing to reward Houston with a long-term deal. A new contract for Houston was coming regardless of his holdout because the Chiefs don’t want to lose him and he only has one more year on his rookie contract.
Conventional wisdom suggests that a holdout like this is a bad thing. In this case, not only is the holdout not bad for the Chiefs, but it’s actually a very good thing.
Even a holdout well into training camp wouldn’t change that, but these situations tend to be resolved before things get that far. Until the situation is resolved, the positives of the holdout far outweigh the negatives.
There are plenty of benefits to waiting to give Houston a contract extension. One of the biggest ones is that 2014 first-round pick Dee Ford is getting and will continue to get the majority of the first-ream reps in practice while Houston is out. For a rookie learning a new position, the more reps he gets, the better.
Coaches talk about reps all the time. They want young players to make the most of the reps they get and take mental reps. It’s near impossible for players to develop without opportunity and experience at the NFL level.
Houston is an established veteran, so he isn’t missing much at this stage of the offseason. He’s not missing a chance to develop, so there’s very little benefit to having him on the field right now. Two of the Chiefs’ AFC West rivals, the Chargers and the Broncos, canceled their third minicamp practice, so the importance of the offseason workouts is likely overstated—especially for veterans.
Things might be different if the Chiefs had a new head coach or defensive scheme, but things remain unchanged in defensive coordinator Bob Sutton’s scheme compared to last year. Houston should easily be able to work back into the fold once he does return without missing a beat.
“Bob [Sutton] will throw in a wrinkle here and there, but I think for the most part it’s been about keeping the same stuff that we were doing from last year which is good,” veteran defensive end Mike DeVito said via KCChiefs.com. “It gives everybody a chance to get your ‘master’s degree’ if you know what I mean. Now you can play a step faster and you can learn the minute details of the defense.”
The Chiefs aren’t getting the competition Houston would provide during the offseason program, but that’s a very hard thing to quantify. It’s very hard to figure out the benefit simply having Houston practice provides the rest of the team.
By not having Houston practicing, the Chiefs are also limiting their exposure to risk. Houston could get hurt in practice, and then the big investment in him would be a waste for however long he was out. NFL teams have to grapple with this reality during every practice, and that’s why quarterbacks wear no-contact jerseys to try to reduce the incidents of contact injuries.
There’s always the risk of non-contact or light-contact injuries. The only way to avoid them entirely is to not practice. Since Houston isn’t practicing, the only injury risk comes from when he is working out on his own.
Houston is important enough to the team that the Chiefs should do everything they can to limit his exposure to potential injury. By holding out, Houston is actually doing that for them.
By waiting to give Houston an extension until the last possible second, the Chiefs are effectively getting him at the lowest possible price. Houston’s agent has zero incentive to drop his asking price at this stage of the offseason, but as time goes on, he may be more willing.
The two sides will move closer together when there are artificial or non-artificial deadlines. Training camp is one of those deadlines because that’s when Houston may actually start missing some things he needs to know.
Houston probably still isn’t missing enough during training camp for the holdout to be a net negative until he’s missed a majority of it. There is certainly a breaking point somewhere, but where isn’t clear. Perhaps the week of the third preseason game, oft considered the most important.
There is often a rush to get deals for star players done, but the longer the team is willing to wait in this case, the better deal they are likely going to get, as Houston has made it clear he wants a long-term deal. Considering what we know about Houston and his ability to step right back into the defense and be a star, the Chiefs should be willing to wait a little longer than normal.
The situation will likely be resolved to the benefit of both parties by the end of July, and there will be smiles and handshakes. Until then, Houston's holdout doesn't hurt the Chiefs. Some good may actually come of this if Ford is more than a situational pass-rusher in 2014 or if the team saves enough money on Houston’s deal to sign a key player down the line.