Justin Houston

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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Colts Notes: QBs, Hilton, Pascal, Houston

The Colts are hunting for a quarterback following the retirement of Philip Rivers, but at least one individual believes the replacement is already on the roster. Jacob Eason recently told Jim Ayello of the Indianapolis Star that it’s “realistic as soon as possible” for him to compete for the Colts starting quarterback gig.

“I got a lot of work ahead of me, a lot of areas to improve and grow, but if the opportunity presents itself, I’m going to put my best foot forward and give you the best shot I can,” Eason said.

Following a standout career at Washington, Eason was a fourth-round pick by the Colts in this past year’s draft. While the rookie didn’t see the field during his first NFL season, he was able to garner the praise of GM Chris Ballard and former quarterbacks coach (and current offensive coordinator) Marcus Brady.

“I didn’t have that many opportunities to go out there and prove myself and show what I can do to these coaches and this team,” Eason said. “But there were moments in training camp where I was given the opportunity to go play and do my thing, and I did that.”

Let’s check out some more notes out of Indy…

  • Speaking of quarterbacks, Ballard kept the door open on retaining backup QB Jacoby Brissett. “We like Jacoby,’’ Ballard said (via Mike Chappell of Fox59.com). “We’ve got to let that work out.’’ The 28-year-old has alternated between being a starting QB and backup QB during his four seasons with Indianapolis. Following a 2019 campaign that saw Brissett complete 60.9-percent of his passes while tossing 18 touchdowns in 15 starts, the quarterback was limited to only 48 offensive snaps in 2020. The former third-round is set to hit free agency this offseason.
  • The Colts have interest in retaining a pair of free agent wideouts. Ballard said he believes veteran T.Y. Hilton can still play a significant role, and he noted the market will dictate whether the receiver returns to Indianapolis (via Kevin Bowen of 1075 The Fan on Twitter). Hilton finished the 2020 season having hauled in 56 receptions for 762 yards and five touchdowns. Meanwhile, Ballard hinted that the organization will be bringing back restricted free agent receiver Zach Pascal, presumably via a tender (via Bowen). Pascal had a career year for the Colts, surpassing or tying career highs in receptions (44), receiving yards (629), and touchdowns (five).
  • Ballard also attributed Justin Houston‘s future in Indianapolis to the “market,” per Bowen on Twitter. Following an eight-year stint with the Chiefs, Houston joined the Colts on a two-year, $24MM deal prior to the 2019 season. In two seasons with the Colts, the 32-year-old has collected 69 tackles and 19 sacks in 32 starts.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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