As you may have heard, the Chiefs have until March 2nd to apply the franchise tag to star outside linebacker Justin Houston, who will be commanding a lot of money on the free agent market since premier pass rushers are hard to come by. Sources have indicated that he is seeking a big payday, but will sign the franchise tag if it is offered.
Houston just finished his 4th year in the NFL after sliding into the 3rd round of the 2011 NFL draft. Since 2011, his sacks have increased each year, culminating in almost breaking the NFL record this past season. The Chiefs certainly do not want to lose Houston, especially since Tamba Hali is aging and Dee Ford is unproven. So what will it mean if Houston signs the franchise tag? Below, I discuss some pros and cons of the franchise tag as it applies to Justin Houston and the Chiefs:
- Keeping Justin Houston in Kansas City is incredibly important, and not just because he almost set the NFL sack record in 2014. Houston has steadily become a rock for the defense, posting a career high in total tackles to go along with his franchise record in sacks. He is only 25 years old with several years of his prime ahead, and has been chosen to represent KC in the Pro Bowl for the past 3 seasons. He can provide mentoring to Dee Ford, and offers a presence that teams have to scheme around.
- If Houston signs a franchise tag, both sides will have until July 15 to work out a long-term deal. If that still does not result in a contract, they can try again next offseason. Teams are allowed to apply the franchise tag to a player only two times, but at least that means Houston can remain with the Chiefs for 2 more years for sure.
- The franchise tag comes with a stipulation: the Chiefs would be obligated to offer him a one-year contract worth the average of the five highest paid outside linebackers in the NFL, which would be around $13 million. Currently, the Chiefs rank near the bottom of the NFL in salary cap space and would need to shift some money around in order to afford that. That might mean losing Dwayne Bowe, Rodney Hudson, and/or Tamba Hali.
- Signing the franchise tag means that the Chiefs and Houston were not able to come to terms on a long-term deal that each side finds beneficial. Houston might be seeking to become the highest paid outside linebacker (Clay Matthews is currently the highest at 5-years for $66 million). That would certainly be tough for the Chiefs to afford considering their lack of salary cap space. Additionally, lack of a mutually agreed upon contract means that there might be some dissent or disagreement between the two sides, making it less likely that Houston could be signed to a long-term deal after the 2015 season.
- Finally, a franchise tag for Justin Houston in 2015 means a franchise tag for him in 2016 will be even more costly for the Chiefs (120% of the amount in 2015). If KC does offer him a franchise tag and he signs, they would be smart to get a long-term contract signed before July 15.
As a Chiefs fan, I am glad that the team has an option to keep Houston on the team for at least a few years, although I would certainly prefer if he was locked up long term. Six NFL teams used the franchise tag in 2014 (Saints, Panthers, Redskins, Jets, Browns, and Steelers), and eight teams used the tag in 2013, including the Chiefs. It will be interesting to see how things play out the next few weeks, especially as reports have indicated that Houston’s agent is meeting with the Chiefs to try to get a deal in place. Here is hoping we see Justin Houston in Red and Gold in 2015!