After unsuccessfully trying to trade Justin Houston, one of Kansas City’s greatest defensive players was inevitably cut from the team on March 10.
Houston was due to collect $32.25 million over the next two seasons and the Chiefs were forced to cut him in order to pay new free agent acquisitions, rookie contracts, and the impending contract extension for Tyreek Hill. The move frees up $14 million in cap space and $15.5 million in cash for the upcoming season.
Walking away from such an astounding football player as Justin Houston was not a decision that came easily to the Chiefs’ brass.
Chiefs CEO Clark Hunt commented on Houston’s release:
“Over the last eight seasons, we’ve had the ability to watch Justin grow into a leader on and off the playing field. His passion helped him become one the most successful pass rushers in franchise history.”
The veteran pass rusher is entering his ninth season at age 30 and has been one of the best edge defenders in the league since being drafted in 2011. The four-time Pro Bowl pass rusher ends his career in Kansas City with 78.5 sacks, a mark that is fourth all-time in Chiefs’ franchise history.
In 2014, Houston abused quarterbacks to the tune of 22 sacks, which is the second-highest single season total in NFL history. Pro Football Focus has his 16.3 percent pressure rate ranked as the fifth-highest since Houston arrived in the league back in 2011.
The financial burden was only one of the issues with Houston. He has had a myriad of injuries over his career including serious issues with his knee and hamstrings. Houston has failed to compete in all 16 games the past four seasons and, due to the injuries, has failed to reach double-digit sacks over the same span. Because of his injury history and age, he will most likely have to lower his expectations on what he thinks he should be paid annually. This may drop him into a price range that is more palatable to New England’s salary cap hit.
New England is in need of quality edge defenders after losing Trey Flowers to free agency and there’s no doubt that, when healthy, Justin Houston can still get it done. Despite missing four games last season, Houston still managed to get to the quarterback nine times and forced five fumbles.
In 2017, he had nine-and-a-half sacks to go along with his 16 tackles-for-loss. Even while playing through injuries, he tallied more sacks last season than Trey Flowers, who lead the Patriots with seven-and-a-half sacks.
New England made some noise early in the offseason by agreeing to a trade for Michael Bennett to help fill the hole left by Trey Flowers. Bennett will give New England a much-needed uptick in the pass rush, but the Patriots could still use Houston as extra firepower. The Patriots were tied for the second-fewest sacks in the league, so Bennett alone is not the answer.
This year’s draft class is loaded with talented edge defenders and pass-rushers, so New England will definitely be eyeing the draft for defensive stability. Having youth on defense is key for future success, but they need veterans to mentor the young talent and teach them the nuances of getting after NFL quarterbacks.
A combination of Justin Houston and Michael Bennett would be an ideal duo to make an immediate impact to New England’s inadequate pass rush and provide exceptional leadership for the future stars that will be drafted in April.