Justin Houston

Ravens Place Justin Houston, Brandon Williams, Others On Reserve/COVID-19 List

The Ravens look set to be without several key defenders against the Lions on Sunday. They placed three defensive starters on their reserve/COVID-19 list Friday.

Outside linebackers Justin Houston and Jaylon Ferguson join defensive linemen Brandon Williams and Justin Madubuike in landing on Baltimore’s coronavirus list. While differing protocols exist for vaccinated an unvaccinated players, Friday placements on the virus list leave teams in a bind. This quartet is set to miss Baltimore’s Week 3 game.

It is unclear which members, if any, of the group tested positive. Positive tests would jeopardize their availability for the Ravens’ Week 4 game against the Broncos. Regardless, this continues a brutal season for the Ravens on the availability front.

Baltimore is already without defensive end Derek Wolfe, having ruled out the veteran lineman due to a back injury. Williams has been a starter since 2014, while Madubuike — a 2020 third-round pick — played 49% of the Ravens’ defensive snaps in Week 2.

Houston, 32, has started both Baltimore’s games, lining up opposite Tyus Bowser. The Ravens do have first-round pick Odafe Oweh and Bowser set to be available. Pernell McPhee‘s status is uncertain due to a shoulder injury that prevented him from practicing Friday. Houston, who managed to avoid injuries during both his Colts seasons, will miss his first game since the 2018 season. The veteran edge rusher does not have a sack yet this season but obviously serves as a key player for a Ravens team that let Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue walk in free agency.

Baltimore withstood its numerous injuries to upend Kansas City on Sunday night, but the AFC power’s lineup will be filled with backups in Detroit. The team will again be without left tackle Ronnie Stanley on Sunday as well, ruling the All-Pro blocker out due to an ankle injury.

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T.J. Watt Staging Hold-In

Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt is staging a hold-in. Although Watt has been in attendance at training camp since it opened, he is not participating in any hitting or team drills. Defensive coordinator Keith Butler confirmed that is because Watt is waiting on a contract extension.

I don’t blame him for [sitting out] because you don’t want to get hurt when you are trying to get your contract done; then you lose some sort of flexibility in terms of what you can sign,” Butler said (via Mark Kaboly of The Athletic). “I hope they get it done.”

The Steelers do not like to engage in contract negotiations once a season begins, which means that the club’s Week 1 matchup with the Bills on September 12 would be the deadline for finalizing a Watt extension this year. But while head coach Mike Tomlin generally eases his top players into the grind of training camp, the team still wants Watt to get involved in team activities well before the regular season opener.

Regardless of when it happens, the Steelers will need to dole out a ton of cash to keep Watt in the fold for the long haul. Kaboly expects the Wisconsin product to become the highest-paid defensive player in league history, which would mean an AAV of over $27MM with roughly $80MM in full guarantees. 

Watt’s performance to date justifies that type of expenditure. Stout against the run and pass, the 26-year-old (27 in October) graded out as Pro Football Focus’ third-best edge player last season out of 108 qualifiers. He is a three-time Pro Bowler and two-time First Team All-Pro, and he has averaged about 14 sacks a year since his sophomore campaign. Even though Pittsburgh is entering something of an organizational crossroads due to its quarterback situation, retaining Watt seems like an absolute must.

The club did add a little pass rushing support for Watt when it signed Melvin Ingram last month. Pittsburgh was also in on Justin Houston, who ultimately signed with the division-rival Ravens. Houston himself said he was very close to signing with the Steelers, but that Baltimore was his first choice (Twitter link via Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic). Ingram, like Houston, is a complementary piece at this stage of his career, and his presence doesn’t necessarily give Pittsburgh any more leverage in Watt negotiations.

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Ravens Sign DE Justin Houston

9:52am: Houston has indeed joined the Ravens. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports (via Twitter) that the veteran pass rusher is signing with Baltimore. It will be a one-year deal worth up to $4MM for the veteran, and Schefter reiterates that Houston turned down higher-paying offers from rival teams. Meanwhile, Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic tweets that Houston will earn a $1.075MM base salary and a $1MM signing bonus, and there’s an opportunity to ear another ~$2MM via Pro Bowl and sack incentives.

9:24am: Justin Houston is zeroing in on a suitor. Jason La Canfora reports (via Twitter) that the veteran defensive lineman recently reached out to Ravens head coach John Harbaugh “to convey a willingness to come to Baltimore.”

As La Canfora notes, the Ravens are Houston’s top choice, and it sounds like he’s willing to take a discount to make it happen. Houston is willing to sign for “considerably less than market,” and the player’s camp is ready to work with the organization with the understanding that the front office is dealing with cap constraints. As La Canfora tweets, the player had more lucrative offers on the table, but he ultimately turned down contracts from his many suitors.

We learned earlier this week that the pass rusher had a long list of potential suitors, with the Colts and Steelers mentioned as potential landing spots. Given Houston’s track record and newfound ability to stay healthy, it makes sense that he still has a market. The 32-year-old totaled 19 sacks in two Colts seasons, playing out a two-year, $23MM deal. His history with knee trouble notwithstanding, Houston did not miss a game as a Colt. Houston missed 26 games during his eight years with the Chiefs, but he was still plenty productive, collecting 78.5 sacks (including a 22-sack campaign in 2014).

The Ravens certainly have a need for a veteran pass rusher. The team lost Matt Judon, who led the 2020 squad with six sacks, in free agency, and the organization also lost the likes of Yannick Ngakoue and Jihad Ward.

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Multiple Teams Offer Justin Houston Deals

Despite being without a team at the start of training camp, Justin Houston is not considering retirement. The veteran edge rusher has received multiple offers this offseason, according to ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler (on Twitter).

Houston has been most closely connected to the Colts this offseason, but he also spoke with the Steelers. Pittsburgh, however, moved in a different direction by signing fellow 32-year-old edge defender Melvin Ingram earlier this month.

Given Houston’s track record and newfound ability to stay healthy, he should still have a market. The former Kansas City and Indianapolis sack artist, who has a 22-sack season on his resume (back in 2014), may also be waiting for a potential training camp/preseason injury to change the marketplace. Interestingly, the Chiefs may soon be in need on the edge — given Frank Clark‘s murky status — but this regime released Houston to free up a slot for Clark two years ago.

The 10-year veteran totaled 19 sacks in two Colts seasons, playing out a two-year, $23MM deal. His history with knee trouble notwithstanding, Houston did not miss a game as a Colt. Indy used its top two draft choices on edge players — Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo — and has former second-round picks Kemoko Turay, Tyquan Lewis and Ben Banogu on its roster. Houston, however, offers more certainty than that group as a pass rusher.

There are a few remaining veteran D-ends/outside linebackers available in free agency. While Houston profiles as the top target left, Olivier Vernon and Everson Griffen also remain unattached in the first week of camp.

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Steelers Considered Justin Houston

The Steelers were in contact with free agent edge rusher Justin Houston as recently as last week (Twitter link via Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports). However, with Melvin Ingram in the fold, the Steelers probably won’t look to add another veteran like Houston to the mix.

[RELATED: Steelers Sign Melvin Ingram]

Houston, one of the most fearsome pass rushers in the league during his heyday with the Chiefs, is coming off of a two-year stint with the Colts. He’s no longer a First Team All-Pro talent, but he was still productive in Indy, averaging 9.5 sacks per year over his two Colts campaigns. Pro Football Focus’ advanced metrics assigned him middling grades in both run and pass D, but the 32-year-old would be an asset to most any pass rushing corps.

That list would have included the Steelers, who could have slotted him opposite of two-time All-Pro T.J. Watt. Instead, they chose Ingram, who offers a much stronger resume than the likes of Quincy Roche, youngster Alex Highsmith, and Cassius Marsh.

Houston should be able to land a deal, though the other clubs previously tied to him have also found DE help elsewhere. The Colts snagged Michigan’s Kwity Paye in the first round while the Ravens landed Penn State’s Odafe Oweh. On the other hand, the Ravens might be willing to give Houston a low-cost, one-year deal now that they’re without Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue.

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2021 Cap Space For All 32 NFL Teams

There are still plenty of quality free agents left on the board as we look ahead to training camp. Cornerback Steven Nelson, tackle Russell Okung, and longtime Legion of Boom leader Richard Sherman headline the list, along with accomplished edge rushers like Justin Houston, Melvin Ingram, and Olivier Vernon. That list will only grow larger, of course, as more teams shed veterans to redirect their funds elsewhere.

With that in mind, here’s a look at every NFL team’s cap situation, starting with the league-leading Jaguars:

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars — $32.7MM
  2. Denver Broncos — $28.9MM
  3. New York Jets — $28.5MM
  4. Cleveland Browns — $20.6MM
  5. Los Angeles Chargers — $19.9MM
  6. Detroit Lions — $17.9MM
  7. San Francisco 49ers — $17.8MM
  8. Cincinnati Bengals — $17.4MM
  9. Washington Football Team — $16.7MM
  10. Indianapolis Colts— $14.3MM
  11. Carolina Panthers— $14.3MM
  12. Minnesota Vikings — $13.5MM
  13. Pittsburgh Steelers — $13.1MM
  14. New England Patriots — $13.1MM
  15. New Orleans Saints — $11.4MM
  16. Arizona Cardinals — $11.3MM
  17. Buffalo Bills — $10.5MM
  18. Baltimore Ravens — $8.8MM
  19. Atlanta Falcons — $8.6MM
  20. Seattle Seahawks — $8.3MM
  21. Tennessee Titans — $8.3MM
  22. Kansas City Chiefs — $7.9MM
  23. Los Angeles Rams — $7MM
  24. Chicago Bears — $6MM
  25. Dallas Cowboys — $6MM
  26. Miami Dolphins — $5.3MM
  27. Green Bay Packers — $5MM
  28. Houston Texans — $5MM
  29. Las Vegas Raiders — $3.3MM
  30. Philadelphia Eagles — $3.2MM
  31. New York Giants — $2.4MM
  32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — $489K

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Top Remaining Pass Rushers

A team can never have too many pass rushers. Even as quarterbacks around the league try to get the ball out of their hands more quickly, the emphasis that most offenses put on their aerial attacks ensure that quality edge defenders will continue to be among the NFL’s most desirable commodities and, therefore, among the highest earners. As we sit in the middle of the lull between OTAs/minicamp and the start of training camp, let’s take a look at where things stand with a few of the highest-profile pass rushers that are still on the market.

  1. Justin Houston: Houston, one of the most fearsome pass rushers in the league during his heyday with the Chiefs, just finished up a two-year contract with the Colts. He is no longer a First Team All-Pro talent, but he was still plenty productive in Indianapolis, at least from a raw statistic standpoint. He averaged 9.5 sacks per year over his two Colts campaigns, and though Pro Football Focus’ advanced metrics were not high on his work in 2020 – he received middling grades in both run defense and pass rush – the 32-year-old would be an asset to most any pass rushing corps. The only two teams really connected to him this offseason, the Ravens and the incumbent Colts, both added edge defenders in the first round of this year’s draft (Indy also invested a second-round choice on DE Dayo Odeyingbo). However, Baltimore’s first-round edge, Odafe Oweh, may be a little green, and the club lost Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue to free agency this offseason. As such, the Ravens may still be in the mix, and there are surely other teams monitoring the situation.
  2. Melvin Ingram: Like Houston, Ingram is 32, but unlike Houston, he is dealing with some health concerns. The longtime Charger earned three consecutive Pro Bowl nods from 2017-19, but knee problems limited him to just seven games in 2020. In those seven contests, Ingram failed to record a single sack, and given the lack of reporting on his knee, it’s fair to wonder if he is 100% healthy. He took a pre-draft visit with the Chiefs, and KC might still be interested, especially given Frank Clark’s recent legal trouble. Ingram also visited with the Dolphins after the draft, and while Miami selected uber-talented edge defender Jaelan Phillips with the No. 18 overall pick, the club also released LB and locker room favorite Kyle Van Noy. Plus, Phillips has a troubling medical history of his own, so there could be room in South Beach for another established pass rusher with leadership abilities. It is encouraging that Ingram’s PFF pass-rushing score of 76.3 was a top-20 mark, even if the sample size of snaps was comparatively small.
  3. Everson Griffen: Griffen’s free agency stay in 2020 lasted until August, when he inked a one-year deal with the Cowboys. Even though Dallas was still very much in the running for the historically weak NFC East, the club dealt Griffen to the Lions in advance of the trade deadline. The four-time Pro Bowler tallied six sacks across 14 games split between Dallas and Detroit, earning a 73.6 pass-rushing mark from PFF in the process (good for 25th out of 108 qualifiers). Now 33, Griffen is probably best utilized as a situational pass rusher at this point, but he could do well in such a role. While there has been no reported interest in his services this year, his recent history suggests that he is content to wait until late summer for the right opportunity to present itself.
  4. Olivier Vernon: Vernon, who will turn 31 in October, came to the Browns in 2019 as part of the blockbuster Odell Beckham trade. He lost six games to injury in his first Cleveland season and managed only 3.5 sacks. He was a candidate to be traded or released last offseason as the team flirted with Jadeveon Clowney, but ultimately he agreed to a paycut to remain with the Browns for 2020, the last year of his previous contract. He picked up nine sacks in 14 games – he has not played a full 16-game slate since 2016 – and while three of those sacks came against an injury-ravaged Eagles O-line, advanced metrics continue to be high on him. Pro Football Focus considered him the 20th-best edge player in the league last year, a grade that incorporated identical (and strong) 71.6 marks for his run defense and his pass rushing acumen. Unfortunately, he suffered a torn Achilles in the regular season finale, which is probably why there have been no reports of interest in him to date (and why he is not higher on this list). Depending on his prognosis, he could be an intriguing late summer or in-season add for any number of clubs.
  5. Bruce Irvin: Irvin suffered a torn ACL in Week 2 of the 2020 season, which he and the Seahawks had hoped would represent a successful second stint in Seattle. The ‘Hawks made him the No. 15 overall pick of the 2012 draft, which was generally viewed as a reach at the time, but the West Virginia product has put together a lengthy and productive NFL career. In his lone season with the Panthers in 2019, Irvin posted a career-high 8.5 sacks, and before his two-game campaign last year, he hadn’t posted a single-season sack total of less than 5.5 since his second pro season in 2013. At 33, he is the oldest player on this list, but assuming he has not faced any setbacks in his recovery, he should be ready to roll by the start of the 2021 season, or close to it. He might have a hard time getting much by way of guaranteed money, but he should certainly have an opportunity to continue his playing career if he wants to. But he may not want to. In March, Irvin posted a tweet that said, “I think it’s time,” which many obviously construed to be a hint that he was hanging up the cleats. There hasn’t been anything concrete, though, so his playing status is still unclear.

Colts Still In Mix To Re-Sign Justin Houston

Justin Houston spent the past two seasons as the Colts’ top edge rusher, but the 10-year veteran visited the Ravens on Wednesday. However, the Colts are still in the mix to bring Houston back, according to Jim Irsay.

The Colts owner said Wednesday that Houston may still return to Indianapolis, via The Athletic’s Zak Keefer (on Twitter). However, Irsay also indicated the Colts can address their edge and left tackle needs in the draft (Twitter link).

A month ahead of free agency, GM Chris Ballard said a Houston return would depend on the market. The Colts were still monitoring their two-year contributor late last month, but he remains a free agent. The Ravens, however, are looking into edge help. They were interested in Jadeveon Clowney, but the former No. 1 overall pick agreed to a Browns deal Wednesday. Both Baltimore and Indianapolis feature clear needs on the edge.

Houston agreed to a two-year, $24MM Colts deal in 2019 and displayed surprising durability, not missing a game as a Colt after running into frequent injury trouble with the Chiefs. Houston registered 19 sacks in two Colts seasons; three of those were safeties. He joins Melvin Ingram, Ryan Kerrigan and Aldon Smith as the top edge defenders available.

The Colts lost their third-leading sacker from 2020, Denico Autry, who signed with the Titans and have not seen their high draft picks produce at this position. Kemoko Turay has played in just 11 games over the past two seasons, while fellow former second-round pick Tyquan Lewis has six sacks in three seasons. Indianapolis re-signed Al-Quadin Muhammad but certainly should be expected to add one or two starter-level cogs ahead of training camp.

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Ravens To Meet With Justin Houston, Planning Other Pass Rusher Visits

Justin Houston stands as one of the best free agents left unsigned. A door still appears open for Houston to return to the Colts, but they now have competition. The Ravens are set to meet with the veteran edge rusher next week, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports tweets.

It sounds like the Ravens will take an in-depth look at this need area. They plan to bring in more pass rushers on visits soon, according to The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec (on Twitter). The market also features the likes of Jadeveon Clowney, Ryan Kerrigan, Melvin Ingram, Aldon Smith and Everson Griffen. Some of these unsigned talents may be on track for Ravens visits.

The Ravens taking a long look here certainly adds up. They lost their top two edge players last month, with Matt Judon signing with the Patriots and Yannick Ngakoue joining the Raiders. Baltimore did re-sign Pernell McPhee yet again, and the team also kept Tyus Bowser. While former mid-major sack standout Jaylon Ferguson also remains on the Ravens’ roster, it is possible the team is looking for multiple starters.

Houston, 32, spent the past two seasons in Indianapolis. The former Chiefs Pro Bowler managed to both stay healthy and serve as the Colts’ top outside rusher, compiling 19 sacks in two Indy seasons. A recent report indicated the Colts have remained in contact with Houston. They have company now. While Houston dealt with injuries for much of his second Chiefs contract, he did not miss a game as a Colt. The 10-year veteran has four double-digit sack seasons on his resume, which is topped by the virtuoso 22-sack effort from 2014.

The market remains fairly deep at this position, at least among older vets seeking third contracts. Kerrigan played out his second Washington deal, doing so after seeing the team draft edges with its two most recent first-round picks. Ingram’s push for a third Chargers deal did not come to fruition. Ingram visited the Chiefs recently, while the Bengals brought in Kerrigan. After seeing Montez Sweat and Chase Young relegate him to a bench role for much of last season, Washington’s all-time sack leader wants to be a starter again in 2021.

Clowney emerged on the Ravens’ radar last year, but with free agents unable to visit teams throughout the 2020 offseason, he ended up taking a one-year Titans deal late last summer. After struggling in Tennessee and dealing with more injury trouble, Clowney’s price tag has dropped. The former No. 1 overall pick has visited the Browns and is expecting to be cleared for full football work this month.

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Colts Remain In Contact With Justin Houston

The Colts have been mostly quiet since free agency opened earlier this month. They re-signed WR T.Y. Hilton after a last-minute push convinced him to stay in Indy rather than sign with the Ravens, and they brought back CB Xavier Rhodes and RB Marlon Mack. According to Stephen Holder of The Athletic, the team also remains in contact with Justin Houston.

Houston, 32, has been productive for the Colts since they signed him to a two-year, $24MM deal in 2019. He started all 32 regular season games over the 2019-20 campaigns, recording 69 tackles and 19 sacks. Pro Football Focus wasn’t especially high on his work last season, ranking him as the 65th-best edge defender in the league out of 109 qualifiers, with middling grades in both run defense and pass rush.

Still, the 9.5-sack average he has put up over the past two seasons would be difficult to replace, especially at this stage of the offseason. That is especially true since there are no truly elite pass rushing prospects in this year’s draft, and even if there were, it’s hard to imagine such a player falling to the Colts’ No. 21 overall pick. Holder says the club is in talks with several other veteran edge players in addition to Houston, and a free agent signing before the draft remains a possibility. Jadeveon Clowney and Everson Griffen are two speculative fits.

There have been no concrete reports of interest in Houston since the offseason began. Back in February, we heard that the Colts would allow the market to dictate whether or not they brought Houston back for a third season, and as of right now, it appears that the market has not been kind to Houston. Perhaps that will result in a team-friendly reunion.

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