Justin Houston

Colts Notes: Hines, Rivers, Buckner, DL

Even after drafting Jonathan Taylor in the second round to pair with Marlon Mack, the Colts say Nyheim Hines will continue to enjoy a meaningful role in the offense. Ideally, Hines says he’d also like to make a dent in the return game.

I’d love to do punt and kick returns again,” Hines said (via Joel A. Erickson of the Indy Star). “But I’ve got to go out there and earn both of the jobs. That’s what I plan on doing. I’d like to start at both of them.”

Hines made a strong case for the job last year, tallying the third-highest punt-return yardage total in the league in just nine attempts. Still, he’ll have to vie with fellow speedsters Parris Campbell and Isaiah Rodgers for the gig this summer.

More from Indy:

  • Philip Rivers has arrived in Indianapolis and has taken the lead role in organizing players-only workouts in the area, Stephen Holder of The Athletic notes (subscription required). These workouts are expected to take place next week. Players are not expected to be back at their teams’ facilities until training camp, though some momentum may be building to an earlier arrival.
  • Speaking of Rivers, his transition to the Colts will be easier than other relocating quarterbacks’ adjustments to their respective teams. While Tom Brady is learning a system that differs considerably from his Patriots setup, the Colts will use use essentially “the exact same system” as the one the Chargers used when Frank Reich and OC Nick Sirianni coached Rivers out west, Colts quarterbacks coach Marcus Brady said (via Colts.com’s Andrew Walker). They have installed roughly 90% of their offense already.
  • The biggest name on Indianapolis’ defense, however, profiled as a fairly unknown commodity to the team’s defensive line coach. New Colts D-line coach Brian Baker spent the past four years as a college coach, working with Mississippi State and Alabama, but will now coach Pro Bowler DeForest Buckner. Baker evidently did not catch many 49ers games during that time. “I’ve been away from it for a while, and I didn’t really know who DeForest was,” Baker said, via Walker. “My energy was focusing on college players and recruiting. So I didn’t know who he was, and I’m like, ‘Who’s the big ‘ol 99? This dude can play. And I’m like, ‘Man, it’d be great …’ and you end up looking, ‘OK, DeForest Buckner,‘ like, ‘Man, it’d be good to get this guy.'”
  • Buckner and Justin Houston will start for the Colts up front. But after that, competitions will commence to see who joins them, Baker added. Third-year defensive end Kemoko Turay appears to be the leading candidate to work opposite Houston. A starter at defensive tackle the past two years, Denico Autry will face off against ex-49ers starter Sheldon Day and third-year player Tyquan Lewis for the job alongside Buckner.

AFC North Notes: Ravens, Njoku, Bengals

The Ravens‘ pattern of letting edge rushers walk in free agency included the departures of both Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith this year. Baltimore’s defense has allowed 500-plus yards the past two weeks. While the Ravens attempted to patch up their edge-rushing need with post-draft additions of Pernell McPhee and Shane Ray (since cut), they were on the lookout for higher-profile players earlier in free agency. In addition to their Ziggy Ansah and Gerald McCoy meetings, the Ravens expressed interest in Justin Houston and Clay Matthews, Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic notes (subscription required). Houston landed in Indianapolis, and Matthews has five sacks with the Rams (after a 3.5-sack 2018). The Ravens also made an offer to former Bengals and Broncos nose tackle Domata Peko this week, Zrebiec tweets. But it likely was not up to Peko’s liking, with the 13-year veteran still unsigned.

Baltimore also recognized this need early in the draft, with Zrebiec adding the team pursued several of the acclaimed first-round defensive linemen. But the ones the Ravens sought were evidently gone by the time they selected Marquise Brown.

Here is the latest from the AFC North:

  • Prior to the season’s outset, the Ravens discussed an extension with starting inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor, according to Zrebiec. C.J. Mosley‘s former wing man, a third-year starter, has not played particularly well in his contract year. Onwuasor rates as a bottom-10 off-ball ‘backer, in the view of Pro Football Focus.
  • David Njoku expects to return from IR this season. The Browns tight end was dealing with a broken wrist and a concussion, but the third-year tight end is out of concussion protocol, Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal tweets. The Browns will be without Njoku for at least six more weeks.
  • Cordy Glenn has missed every Bengals game this season and remains in concussion protocol. Obviously, this is a concerning situation for the veteran tackle. But Zac Taylor does expect the second-year Bengal to play this season, with Geoff Hobson adding (via Twitter) Glenn was attending a doctor’s appointment today. Andre Smith has struggled replacing Glenn, who was moved back to tackle (from his short-term left guard post) because of Jonah Williams‘ offseason injury.
  • Down A.J. Green and John Ross, the Bengals are scrambling at wide receiver. They worked out free agent DaMarkus Lodge, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). This marks the Bengals’ first receiver workout since Ross’ latest injury. He is expected to be out for a few games. Lodge is a rookie UDFA out of Ole Miss.

Colts Sign Justin Houston

The Colts have reached agreement on a deal with former Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (on Twitter). It’s a two-year, $24MM deal, Schefter adds (Twitter link). 

The deal includes $18.5MM in total guarantees, according to Stephen Holder of the Indy Star (on Twitter). That’s a larger-than-expected guarantee for Houston, who did not have a ton of suitors following his release from Kansas City.

The Chiefs tried to trade Houston this offseason, but no club was willing to take on his $15.25MM base salary. On March 10, they released him outright. By cutting Houston, the Chiefs saved $14MM in cap space while absorbing $7.1MM in dead money.

Houston led the NFL with 22 sacks in 2014, but his free agent market has been eerily quiet over the last couple of weeks. Now, he’ll join the Colts as he enters his age-30 campaign.

The Colts recently explored a trade for Dee Ford, Schefter notes (on Twitter), but they ultimately held on to their draft picks and landed his former Chiefs teammate.

Houston can still be an effective player, as evidenced by his 18.5 sacks over the past two seasons. Pro Football Focus graded him as the NFL’s 14th-best edge defender last year, and his presence should go a long way towards bolstering the Colts’ lackluster pass rush. And, while a 4-3 scheme might not be a perfect fit for Houston, he can still be a disruptor in Matt Eberflus‘ system.

The addition of Houston may also alter the Colts’ draft plans. The Colts may still look for a young edge rusher in April, but having Houston on the roster may allow them to stand pat at No. 26 rather than trading up for an upper-echelon prospect.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Chiefs Release Justin Houston

The Chiefs have released edge rusher Justin Houston, the club announced today.

“Over the last eight seasons we’ve had the ability to watch Justin grow into a leader on and off the playing field,” Chiefs owner Clark Hunt said. “His passion helped him become one the most successful pass rushers in franchise history. We appreciate his contributions to our team and community and he’ll always be considered a part of the Chiefs family.”

Kansas City had been attempting to trade Houston, but no club was willing to take on his $15.25MM base salary. By cutting Houston, the Chiefs will $7.1MM in dead money, but will also create $14MM in cap space. That latter figure is critical for Kansas City, as the team had less than $10MM in cap space before moving from Houston.

In addition to trying to move Houston, the Chiefs are also rumored to have put fellow pass rusher Dee Ford on the trade block. Ford was designated as Kansas City’s franchise player and will earn north of $17MM in 2019, and the Chiefs are reportedly searching for a second-round pick in exchange. However, it’s possible Kansas City will be more amenable to retaining Ford now that Houston is out of the picture.

Houston led the NFL with 22 sacks in 2015, but injuries have since taken a toll on his availability. Now entering his age-30 campaign, Houston can still be an effective player, as evidenced by his 18.5 sacks over the past two seasons. Pro Football Focus graded him as the NFL’s 14th-best edge defender last year, and he should have a solid market given that most of this offseason’s best pass-rushers were taken off the market via the franchise tag.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Chiefs Expected To Release Justin Houston

The Chiefs have put out trade feelers for both Justin Houston and Dee Ford. While it’s not known what kind of interest the team’s bookend pass rushers are drawing, the older member of this duo may be set to hit the market.

A report surfaced Monday indicating that Houston will be released, but NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero tweets the Chiefs have yet to pull the trigger. However, that is the expected endgame here, per CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora (on Twitter). The franchise looks to still be trying to trade Houston, per Pelissero, hoping to take advantage of what has become a less flashy pass rusher market.

While Houston may not be attractive at a $15.25MM base salary, he figures to be in demand as a first-time free agent. The expected franchise tag recipients, including Ford, received news they will be tagged, opening the door for the second-tier pass rushers to top the true free agent market. Houston is more accomplished than any of those players, and despite his age (30) and recent history of injuries, the former All-Pro will generate interest.

If released, Houston stands to join Trey Flowers, Dante Fowler, Preston Smith, Za’Darius Smith and Ziggy Ansah as the market’s top edge defenders. Houston has played four seasons on the six-year, $101MM deal. He has not lived up to that price, and said contract calls for a $21.1MM cap number in 2019, failing to eclipse 10 sacks in a season since his 22-sack 2014 showing.

Chiefs Discussing Justin Houston Trade

The Chiefs did not boast a collectively strong defense, but three of their front-seven pieces are capable of high-end production. However, one of those has a quarterback-level cap number.

Justin Houston‘s name has come up in trade talks, according to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link). The 30-year-old outside linebacker has generated “real interest” around the league, per Rapoport.

Dee Ford is set to receive the franchise tag, which will be a $17MM-plus commitment. Houston’s cap figure is $21.1MM — the highest number on the Chiefs’ 2019 payroll. Houston signed a six-year, $101MM contract at the 2015 franchise tag deadline. However, like Eric Berry, he has not delivered the kind of work the Chiefs hoped for after agreeing to the mammoth re-up.

Houston has been effective since signing that agreement, but in 2014, he registered 22 sacks. He has not surpassed 10 sacks in a season since. Knee and hamstring injuries have slowed him as well. Houston did grade as a top-15 edge defender last season, per Pro Football Focus. Kansas City is moving to a 4-3 scheme under Steve Spagnuolo, but with teams largely lined up in nickel, a scheme switches do not require the level of personnel adjustments they once did.

If Houston were to be dealt, the Chiefs would have a massive hole at edge rusher. As dominant as Ford showed he could be last season, he has not been especially consistent throughout his career. The Chiefs drafted Tanoh Kpassagnon and Breeland Speaks in the past two second rounds. While the three-time reigning AFC West champions would seemingly be in the market for a Houston replacement, if a trade goes through, one of these backups could be looked upon as a cheap successor.

The Chiefs have $28MM-plus in cap space but have two candidates for expensive extensions in Chris Jones and Tyreek Hill, the latter possibly in position to become the NFL’s highest-paid wide receiver. Keeping Houston may mean a pay cut, with his production no longer matching his salaries. While the Raiders received two first-round picks for Khalil Mack, who soon signed the richest contract for a defender in NFL history, the Chiefs would not be looking at that kind of haul for Houston when factoring in his age and injury history.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Justin Houston Could Miss Multiple Games

The Chiefs’ defense took a noticeable step forward in Sunday’s victory over the Jaguars, but the unit finished the game without its top pass rusher. And that situation may continue for the near future.

Justin Houston suffered a hamstring injury against the Jags, and NFL.com’s Mike Garafolo reports (via Twitter) this could shelve the eighth-year edge defender for a few weeks. He’s considered “very iffy” to face the Patriots on Sunday night, per Garafolo.

Houston’s issue appears to have the Chiefs looking at free agent outside linebackers, Blair Kerkhoff, Brooke Pryor and Lynn Worthy of the Kansas City Star report.

Knee issues have been Houston’s biggest problem as an NFLer, keeping him off the field during much of the 2015 and ’16 seasons. He’s played in all five of Kansas City’s wins thus far this season, however. He has three sacks and two forced fumbles, teaming with Dee Ford as starters for the AFC’s lone unbeaten. Ford, who’s off to a strong start himself with four sacks and a forced fumble (which came against Blake Bortles on Sunday) may have to shoulder more responsibility against the Patriots.

The Chiefs invested second-round picks in OLBs the past two years, bringing in Tanoh Kpassagnon in 2017 and trading up to select Breeland Speaks this year. Speaks has played 116 snaps thus far this season.

Kansas City faces AFC North-leading Cincinnati in Week 7. The Chiefs have a home tilt against the Broncos on tap for Week 8. Kansas City’s bye is not until Week 12.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC West Notes: Houston, Chargers, Broncos

Knee trouble has impacted Justin Houston for lengthy stretches during his career. Although the Chiefs‘ top pass rusher played 15 games last season, he admitted he wasn’t at full strength. Houston missed 11 games in 2016 and five in 2015 due to a troublesome knee, one that required surgery during the 2016 offseason. But Houston’s participated throughout Kansas City’s offseason program this year and will be counted on to supply consistent edge pressure.

When you have the surgery I had on my knee, it takes time to get your pop back and get where you want to be,” Houston said, via Nate Taylor of The Athletic (subscription required). “I’m beyond there right now. It just feels great to be back in that feeling.”

These knee problems have limited Houston since he signed that six-year, $101MM contract at the 2015 franchise tag deadline. He has not recorded double-digit sacks in a season since his NFL record-threatening 22 in 2014.

After examining the latest on the Raiders, here’s what’s new from the rest of the AFC West:

  • In addition to the season-ending injuries sustained by Hunter Henry and Jason Verrett, the Chargers‘ recent spree of misfortune affected another tight end Sunday. Rookie UDFA Austin Roberts suffered a torn ACL and will miss the season, Anthony Lynn said (via Eric Williams of ESPN.com, on Twitter). Roberts was one of Josh Rosen‘s options at UCLA the past two seasons. The Bolts remain in discussions regarding an Antonio Gates reunion.
  • The Broncos drafted two running backs and have two young holdovers in Devontae Booker and De’Angelo Henderson, but rookie UDFA Phillip Lindsay is turning heads early in camp. The 5-foot-7 speedster out of Colorado has Von Miller and Brandon Marshall expecting him to play a key role this season. “We’re definitely going to have some things planned for Phillip,” Miller said, via Jon Heath of Broncos Wire. “Guys like that in the league, you just can’t cover them. They’re just assets to the offense. You have to have a back like that and we definitely have one.” Marshall expects Lindsay, whom Mike Klis of 9News observes battling Henderson and seventh-round pick David Williams for a role behind Booker and Royce Freeman, to be Denver’s third-down back. Lindsay posted 1,700-plus yards from scrimmage in his final two college seasons. UDFAs like Chris Harris, C.J. Anderson and Shaquil Barrett have made impacts in Denver, but the franchise hasn’t deployed much of an outlet threat since Knowshon Moreno.
  • Cameron Erving is in the mix to win the Chiefs‘ left guard job, per Taylor, who adds Mitch Morse looks to have reasserted himself as the center starter. Erving served as a Chiefs backup last season, but with K.C. having lost Zach Fulton in free agency, a spot is open for the former Browns first-round pick. Erving’s last full-time role came when he started 13 games with Cleveland in 2016. The Chiefs declined Erving’s fifth-year option, making this season particularly pivotal for the former Florida State standout.

Chiefs To Keep Justin Houston

The Chiefs are parting ways with Derrick Johnson, but they won’t be casting fellow linebacker Justin Houston aside. Houston remains in the team’s plans for 2018, according to a source who spoke with Mike Florio of Pro Football TalkJustin Houston

Houston is slated to carry a cap number of $20.6MM in 2018, including a base salary of $14.75MM. That’s arguably too much money for a player who has seen his production dip in recent seasons, but the Chiefs would be left with $12.7MM if they were to trade or release him. Houston was still a major contributor in 2017, so it would make little sense for KC to eat that kind of money in order to move on.

Last year, Houston started in all 15 of his regular season appearances, plus the Chiefs’ first round playoff loss against the Titans. The 29-year-old amassed a team-high 9.5 sacks plus 59 total tackles and graded out as the 15th best edge defender in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. His 87.6 overall score was down from his best work from 2013-2015, but still nothing to sneeze at.

The Chiefs have been active early this offseason. Already, KC has traded Alex Smith to the Redskins and released Darrelle Revis. The Chiefs are expected to jettison other veterans, but Houston will not be among them.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

West Notes: Lockett, Kelly, Rams, Houston

Tyler Lockett underwent surgery today to repair a broken right leg he suffered during the Seahawks‘ loss to the Cardinals on Saturday, but the wide receiver avoided any further damage. The second-year player avoided ligament damage, Pete Carroll said (via Curtis Crabtree of Pro Football Talk, on Twitter).

The tibia and fibula bones breaking through Lockett’s skin provided the Seahawks with some urgency to complete this surgery as soon as possible to prevent infection, Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times reports. Per Carroll, Lockett should be up and moving in four-to-six weeks. However, the team does not expect the receiver to return should it make a third Super Bowl trip in four years, and Lockett will likely head to IR to open up a roster spot, per Condotta.

Seattle has already made a roster move involving a wide receiver, Condotta reports (on Twitter), so that would point to Lockett venturing on IR as another pass-catcher rises to the 53-man roster. Seventh-round rookie Kenny Lawler and 2015 UDFA Kasen Williams comprise the receiver contingent on the Seahawks’ practice squad.

Here’s more from the West divisions as Week 16 winds down.

  • Chip Kelly says he hasn’t had discussions with 49ers ownership about his status for 2017, but the first-year San Francisco coach figures to do so once season ends Sunday, Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group reports (on Twitter). Both Kelly and GM Trent Baalke are on thin ice after this 49ers season included a 13-game losing streak, the longest in franchise history.
  • The Rams are considering moving Greg Robinson to guard for Week 17 against the Cardinals, interim coach John Fassel said (per Alden Gonzalez of ESPN.com). Robinson started 35 straight games at left tackle for the Rams and has led the NFL with 31 penalties since the start of the 2015 season. Gonzalez writes the Rams may have already moved on from Robinson at left tackle after two different head coaches deactivated him in the past two weeks. The Rams used the No. 2 pick on Robinson in 2014 and are in danger of seeing next to nothing from another No. 2 overall tackle. Then-St. Louis abandoned the Jason Smith experiment after three seasons in 2011, giving Smith 26 starts.
  • Andy Reid said Justin Houston experienced swelling in his surgically repaired knee, leading to the Chiefs deactivating him on Christmas night. When asked about the possibility Houston could miss the playoffs, the fourth-year Chiefs coach said the team “will take it day by day and see.” Houston, who was severely limited during Kansas City’s two-game stay in last year’s AFC bracket, missed 10 games this season after offseason ACL surgery. “It felt a little bit better than it did the day before. He felt like things were getting better,” Reid said of Houston, via Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star. “That’s what we’re going on here. It’s just a matter of that thing calming down a little bit and he’ll be back.”
  • Gary Kubiak said he will make a decision on Paxton Lynch starting Week 17 for the Broncos soon, Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post reports. The defending Super Bowl champions are now eliminated from the playoffs, and this season finale against the Raiders would give the first-rounder a third start in advance of an offseason where he’ll be expected to compete with Trevor Siemian for the 2017 starting job. Although, Siemian seems to have the leg up despite being previously viewed as a stopgap solution.

Zach Links contributed to this report