Justin Houston

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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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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