There's Always Next Year, Justin

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After the longest offseason in recent memory, the regular season is finally upon us. The Kansas City Chiefs are set to open their season at home in a Week 1 matchup with the Tennessee Titans. Unsurprisingly, that’s not the focal point around watercoolers and in the Kingdom’s blogosphere. The talk two days into game week is almost exclusively about Alex Smith’s contract extension.

The Chiefs extended their Pro Bowl quarterback this past weekend, signing him to a 4-year, $68 million deal. I won’t trouble you with an opinion piece on the contract. Fellow staffer Lyle Graversen has you covered there. Today, I’d prefer to talk about what this may mean for Justin Houston’s pending contract situation.

Some fan circles are livid about Smith’s extension. Many of them believe general manager John Dorsey and head coach Andy Reid have hitched their wagon to the wrong guy. More importantly, they’re upset that the magnitude of the deal may hurt Kansas City’s chances of re-signing their budding superstar outside linebacker. Hopefully over the next five minutes, I can assuage your fears about the future. I think Smith’s signing actually gave the Chiefs options with Houston. Though, I will say he probably won’t get a new deal until…wait for it…next season.

NFL: San Diego Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs

That’s probably not very reassuring, as Houston is set to become a free agent when the new league starts in March. Step back from the ledge and give me a minute to elaborate. I’m speculating here, but with Smith’s new deal, I believe the Chiefs have approximately $3.5 million of available cap space. That’s not enough room for another major signing in 2014, but with the deal done, the Chiefs now have the freedom to use the franchise tag on Houston next season, if necessary. Using the franchise numbers for 2014 as a frame of reference (subject to change next year), tagging Houston in 2015 could cost the Chiefs $12-13 million. Were it Smith, that number would be closer to $19 million.

Fortunately, for those of you that don’t like the idea of tagging Houston, I don’t think the Chiefs will have to. Next year, there will be a number of veteran contracts that Kansas City can walk away from. Cutting one or more of them could easily give the team the cap room necessary to extend Justin Houston. When Dorsey crosses that bridge, he’ll have a septet of vets who’ve reached an age and a cap number that may no longer feasible for the organization.

Consider the following numbers:

Name: 2015 Cap Hit: Dead Money: Savings, if cut:
Tamba Hali $11.9m $2.9m $9m
Sean Smith $7.75m $2.25m $5.5m
Dwayne Bowe $14m $9m $5m
Mike DeVito $5.4m $1.4m $4m
Chase Daniel $4.8m $1m $3.8m
Donnie Avery $4m $500k $3.5m
Anthony Fasano $4.2m $2.2m $2m

 

Terminating the contracts of two or three players on this list gives Kansas City significant cap relief. With that room, there’s no reason why they couldn’t make Houston a fair market offer (think five years, $60 million). It’s distinctly possible that with the potential growth of players like Dee Ford, Frankie Hammond, Jaye Howard, Mike Catapano, Albert Wilson, and Travis Kelce, a few of the aforementioned players’ tenures will end in the spring of 2015.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Kansas City Chiefs

In short terms, Smith’s extension doesn’t hurt their chances of re-signing Justin Houston. In fact, I think they’ll have a much better shot now that Smith’s deal is done. Kansas City couldn’t afford to drag negotiations with both players into the offseason. Contrary to what some will tell you, they made the right choice in signing Smith first. Quarterback is the most important position on the field and there’s no Dee Ford waiting in the wings in that group — at least not that we’re aware of.

In closing friends, cross your fingers and hope that Houston is willing to be patient. Bob Sutton’s scheme relies upon a quality pass-rush and Houston is a key contributor to that aspect of the defense. The 2014 season may be Tamba Hali’s last in Kansas City. The Chiefs are in no position to lose both studs at outside linebacker. This is still very much a touch-and-go situation until the ink dries on a new contract, but for now, we know that Alex Smith’s extension won’t be the reason why Houston isn’t a long-time member of the Kansas City Chiefs.

Now I’d like to hear from you. Do you think Houston’s willing to wait until the new league year for an extension? Are the Chiefs gambling on their defensive future by waiting until next season to extend him? If the Chiefs tag Houston next year, could that be the end of any long-term contract possibilities? Use the comment section below to weigh in. As always, we appreciate your readership and support.

Until next time, Addicts!

 

 

 

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