January 25, 2014; Honolulu, HI, USA; Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston (50) and cornerback Brandon Flowers (24) during the 2014 Pro Bowl Ohana Day at Aloha Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Houston Should Still Be Kansas City Chiefs' Priority

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News broke today Jamaal Charles may hold out of training camp in an effort to get a new deal. Charles still has two years left on his present contract but he will be vastly underpaid compared to his performance and market value. It makes sense for him to hold out and see if he can get a new deal.

Charles holding out sounds scary but the reality is the Chiefs are in a position of strength in negotiations. Rules stipulate Charles must play each of the next two seasons (unless he gets injured) in order to accrue enough time to be eligible for free agency after 2015. By the time Charles would be eligible for free agency, he would be 29 years old, and the history of running back production after the age of 28 is not one full of success.

One example:

RB-age-patterns1

Could Charles be different? Sure he could. But history would suggest a running back with the kind of mileage Charles would have added by age 29 will not be very productive after age 30. Anybody remember the Larry Johnson extension? How did that work out for the Chiefs?

Running backs have short lifespans. Charles is near the end of his, which is part of the reason why the Chiefs have been so aggressive about trying to win in the window they have now.

There are, however, two windows that are still opening up: Alex Smith and Justin Houston. Kansas City’s future success is based more on the future production of Smith and Houston than it is on Charles.

Houston is a premier pass rusher who is about to hit his prime. We’ve learned Bob Sutton’s defensive scheme is based on getting to the quarterback, which means there may be no other player (except for maybe Dontari Poe) who is more important to the Chiefs’ future defensive success. Locking him down must be priority number one if the Chiefs are going to continue to build into a championship-caliber team.

Smith comes in quickly behind Houston. Remember, the Chiefs were 2-14 with both Houston and Charles the season before Smith arrived. Yes, part of it was the improved quality in coaching, but Smith’s quarterback play completely changed the nature of the team. A reduction in turnovers and smarter decision-making came almost exclusively from Smith’s play.

And the offense completely changed in the second half of the season as the team became more comfortable in the system. In the final eight games of the year, including the playoff game, the Chiefs averaged 32.3 points per game and increased their overall yardage production. Smith also added the most impressive statistical performance in a playoff game in Chiefs history.

Is Alex Smith as good as Aaron Rodgers? Of course not. But based on purely on talent, tell my why Smith cannot be the Chiefs’ version of Russell Wilson. Smith is the best quarterback the Chiefs have had since Trent Green, and Smith is better than Green. It is in the best interest of the Chiefs to solidify the quarterback position.

What matters the most with Smith deal is how it is structured. Kansas City should want the flexibility to get out of the Smith deal if they do happen to run into the next Aaron Rodgers. This is why Houston’s contract is the most important as it will help dictate how the Chiefs can structure Smith’s deal. The more money the Chiefs can front load into Smith, the easier it will be to move on from him if Aaron Murray or some other future quarterback proves to be the better quarterback. How much the Chiefs can front load is based on what Houston’s final number ends up being.

Jamaal Charles is a great running back, maybe even the best of his generation (excluding Adrian Peterson). Charles took a risk when he signed his extension and it has come back to bite him. He’ll play out his two years and will likely be close to done as an elite back.

KC could sign him to an extra year, give him a small pay raise. Deity knows Charles has earned it. But priority number one has to be getting Houston signed to a deal so they can get a deal done with Smith.

Which player should be priority number one for a contract extension?

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Tags: Alex Smith Jamaal Charles Justin Houston Kansas City Chiefs

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