“Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston’s career year is happening at the right time, as he is in the final year of a four-year rookie contract that pays $1.406 million this season,” says NFP’s Joel Corry, who goes into detail forecasting the premier pass rusher’s contractual future. Corry’s main points:
- First the stats. . .Houston is leading the NFL with 12 sacks through eight games (a pace that would break the all-time single-season record), ranks as Pro Football Focus’ top-rated 3-4 outside linebacker and is tied for second in the league with 44 pressures (combined sacks, QB hurries and QB hits).
- Signing Houston to a long-term deal is a priority for the Chiefs, but multiple reports indicate the team and player (agent Joel Segal) are far apart on terms.
- Segal will likely seek to top Texans defensive end and reigning defensive player of the year J.J. Watt‘s record-setting, six-year, $100MM mega deal ($51.88 guaranteed), which is the gold standard for defensive players right now. Watt is the NFL’s highest-paid non-quarterback based on average yearly salary ($16.67MM).
- While Houston’s deal is up, he won’t be able to enjoy the fruits of unrestricted free agency because the Chiefs can (will) franchise tag him twice if need be. Corry estimates the tag number will be approximately $13.25MM in 2015 and $15.9MM in 2016.
- One “major obstacle” to a deal could be the team’s insistence on quarterback Alex Smith, who signed a four-year, $68MM deal ($45MM guaranteed) in August, remaining the highest-paid Chief. This is typical salary cap structure, according to Corry, who sites the example of Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford‘s place atop Detroit’s salary hierarchy even though receiver Calvin Johnson is widely regarded as a better overall player.
- In summation, “Based on the changing market conditions for elite defensive players and the relationship between salaries of top pass rushing defensive ends and linebackers that consistently pressure opposing quarterbacks, expect Houston to sign a long-term deal somewhere between $14.5 million per year and $15.5 million per year as long as he doesn’t sustain a serious injury before the end of the season,” estimates Corry.