“Houston, we have a contract.” Those are words every Chiefs fan is hoping to hear at some point today, guaranteeing that star linebacker Justin Houston will remain a Chief for years to come. Today marks the deadline for signing a long-term deal (3:00 p.m. CT!), so I thought I would take a look at some potential scenarios that could play out regarding Justin Houston playing for the Chiefs in 2015.
The most preferred scenario is that Houston gets paid and signs a long-term deal that he covets. In the NFL, careers are short and elite pass rushing talent is hard to come by, therefore finding an elite pass rusher gives a team an advantage. Per overthecap.com, the Chiefs have the lowest amount of salary cap space in the NFL for 2015(less than $1 million available, while every other team as at least $2.9 million), but have the 4th-most available space in 2016 ($46 million). That leaves plenty of wiggle room to strike a deal to keep Houston in KC for many years. Houston has increased his sack total every year in the league and recorded a total of 48.5 sacks in 4 years, basically a 12-sack per season average. Maintaining that average over the next 7 years would certainly put Houston among the top 15 in NFL history. He has a lot of leverage for getting paid an enormous sum of money.
Secondly, if a long-term deal is not reached today, Houston can sign the franchise tender and play this season making $13.1 million. That entire $13 million counts against the cap, whereas a long-term contract could have potentially reduced that number if a deal had been reached previously. If no deal is signed, the Chiefs cannot negotiate with him until the 2015 season ends and Houston will be a free agent. The Chiefs can elect to place the franchise tag on him a second time in 2016, but will have to pay additional 20% on the one-year franchise tender (which will roughly equal $15.6 million for Houston in 2016).
Third, and less preferred, Houston can sit out all of training camp (which he did last year) and preseason, then sign his franchise tender before Week 1 and still make his full salary. He could still play the entire season, but I would prefer he attend training camp and get in playing shape while also helping mentor second-year linebacker Dee Ford. However, Houston sat out all of last season and recorded 22 sacks, so he must be doing something right.
Fourth, and even less preferred, he has until Week 10 to sign the franchise tender, which would enable him to play only the final six games in 2015 (albeit at a pro-rated salary) and become a free agent next season. Sitting out would make a statement for sure, but would do little to help Houston enhance his chances of a bigger payday in 2016 and beyond. This scenario seems pretty unlikely. I can envision Houston skipping a few games if a long-term deal is not signed today, but I doubt he would wait until Week 10 to sign the franchise tender. He should know that another big year will only increase his chances of making JJ Watt money (6 years for $100 million, with $51 million guaranteed).
Lastly, and least preferred of all, another team could jump in and sign Houston since the Chiefs offered a non-exclusive franchise tender. That would require the team signing him to give up two first round draft picks, which is quite a high cost these days since draft picks are cheap (just look at Russell Wilson). In addition, the Chiefs would have the option to match any offer to Houston. I really doubt any team would be willing to give up two first round picks, but someone like the Raiders, who have lots of salary cap space, could always steal him away.
Any other potential scenarios are not worth thinking about for Chiefs fans. Let’s hope GM John Dorsey and Houston strike a deal today!