Justin Houston offered a showing of good faith by showing up to training camp in 2014 without a long-term extension. He continued proving his worth by being one of the most dominant pass-rushers in football. The Chiefs rewarded him by handing him the franchise tag.
The team announced the news via its official website, and general manager John Dorsey provided a statement on the decision:
Justin is a talented player and a key contributor to our defense. Today was the deadline to designate a franchise player, and it was in the best interest of the club to place the tag on Justin. We will continue to discuss long-term options with him and his agent. Our goal is to reach a deal that is mutually beneficial. We want to keep Justin in a Chiefs uniform for years to come.
ESPN's Adam Schefter first reported the move.
Terez A. Paylor of KansasCity.com later reported "Houston is not expected to sign the tag at the moment." ProFootballTalk continued:
Per league source, Chiefs used non-exclusive tag on Justin Houston, which put him in play for other teams, in theory. Per league source, Justin Houston already is considering waiting until Week 10 to sign franchise tender to stay with Chiefs. Justin Houston will consult with NFLPA to decide whether to file grievance on whether he's a DE not an LB, per source.
"Regarding Justin Houston, the projected franchise player designation pays $14.8 million to defensive ends, $13.2 million to linebackers," added ESPN's Ed Werder.
Paylor explained further:
... a nonexclusive tag would pay Houston the same as an exclusive tag — roughly $13 million — but only if he doesn’t receive any others from other teams. If he does, the Chiefs could either match the offer or let Houston walk for two first-round picks.
The Chiefs will presumably need to slice another $6.5 million in salary by March 10 to accommodate the tag, since all teams have to be under the cap by the start of the new league year. The Chiefs are currently believed to be roughly $6.5 million under the cap.By signing his one-year franchise tender, Houston would be under contract and be required to attend organized team activities and the Chiefs' offseason program when they begin in April. But by holding off, Houston can also skip training camp and the preseason, return shortly before the regular season and command his full franchise salary, which is expected to be in the neighborhood of $13 million.
Houston, 26, has played each of his four NFL seasons with the Chiefs. A third-round pick out of Georgia in 2011, he has been one of the league's better bargains over the last couple of seasons.
While hoping to force the Chiefs' hand into offering him a new contract, Houston skipped out on minicamp and was absent from team facilities for most of last summer.
Many expected him to continue the holdout well into training camp—at which point he could start accruing daily fines—but Houston made the semi-surprising decision to show up for the first day.
He responded by turning in the best individual season of his career. He set a career high with 22 sacks and made 68 tackles, helping Kansas City to its second straight winning season.
Signing him to the franchise tag comes on the heels of a four-year extension for defensive end Allen Bailey. The Chiefs will pay him $25 million over the course of the deal, with $15 million guaranteed.
With Bailey, running back Jamaal Charles and quarterback Alex Smith all signed, the Chiefs can turn their attention to Houston. That's probably a positive thing for both sides.
Houston has been among the league's most prolific pass-rushers in each of the last three seasons, working mostly as an edge-rushing linebacker.
Among 3-4 outside linebackers who received 50 percent of their team's defensive snaps, Houston is the most effective pass-rusher, per Pro Football Focus. He's also an excellent run-stopper who ranked among the best at his position in stop percentage.
“He said he wanted to be a Hall of Famer and put on the yellow jacket,” former Chiefs teammate Kevin Vickerson said, per Pete Sweeney of KCChiefs.com.
“That’s big coming from a young player. This being year nine or 10 [for me], seeing a younger guy talk like that and actually making strides doing it is real rare.”
With the Chiefs allowing numerous defensive fixtures to leave last offseason, the expectation was that they were doing so to take care of Houston over the long term.
Tagging him now, in all likelihood, will merely facilitate an extension in the coming weeks and months.
Tamba Hali is 31 and will be playing in his 10th season. Keeping Houston ensures the Chiefs retain a pass-rusher who will be at the peak of his powers as Hali's career is winding down.
They'll also need to make a decision about Hali's next contract before he becomes a free agent in 2016.
Locking up Houston gives general manager John Dorsey a little bit of breathing room in those negotiations. More importantly, it gives his team a window to negotiate with its star pass-rusher it wouldn't have if he'd have hit the open market.
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