Realities Of The Justin Houston Contract Negotiations


Justin Houston is eight games away from the expiration of his contract, and it doesn’t look like anything is going to get done anytime soon.

National Football Post writer and former NFL agent Joel Corry recently wrote about the negotiations. Here’s a bit from what he had to say.

"Based on the changing market conditions for elite defensive players and the relationship between salaries of top pass rushing defensive ends and linebackers that consistently pressure opposing quarterbacks, expect Houston to sign a long-term deal somewhere between $14.5 million per year and $15.5 million per year as long as he doesn’t sustain a serious injury before the end of the season. It’s also conceivable that Houston could top the $45 million of overall guarantees in Smith’s extension with a similar type of structure. Smith’s deal contains $30 million fully guaranteed at signing."

The issue here is Houston is likely to be demanding a contract upwards of $100 million, similar to the deals signed by J.J. Watt, Robert Quinn, and Gerald McCoy signed. However, this is unlikely to happen for a few reasons. I’ll let Corry tell you the first two.

"The Chiefs will be adamant about quarterback Alex Smith remaining the team’s highest-paid player. Smith signed a four-year, $68 million extension (with $45 million in guarantees) in late August. Typically, the starting quarterback is at the top of a team’s salary hierarchy when he gets a lucrative contract.…The highest-paid defensive end has consistently made more than the highest-paid linebacker. The last time the reverse occurred was in 2009 when the Dallas Cowboys signed DeMarcus Ware to a six-year, $78 million extension during the middle of the season. The situation quickly changed in 2010. Julius Peppers replaced Jared Allen ($12,210,012 per year) as the highest-paid defensive end … Clay Matthews is currently the NFL’s highest-paid linebacker at $13.2 million per year."

The third problem is Kansas City holds the trump card: the franchise tag.

Houston isn’t eight games from hitting free agency, he’s 40 games. It is incredibly likely the Chiefs franchise Houston each of the next two years as he’s the only pending free agent worth tagging. Dontari Poe won’t be a free agent until after the 2016 season, assuming KC picks up his fifth-year option. This means Houston is stuck in KC no matter what, which limits his negotiating power for the immediate future.

And the immediate future is key here. Sure, Houston could play under the franchise tag for two seasons and then go to free agency but a lot can happen in 40 games both with injuries and a regression in play. He cannot guarantee that his value will be higher in 2016 than it is today. Getting paid now is the priority for him.

Kansas City also has the benefit of a good, long-term salary cap outlook. As of today, the Chiefs have an estimated $80 million in cap space for 2016 based on the conservative estimate of a $150 million salary cap. Between now and then, only Houston, Jeff Allen, and Rodney Hudson appear to be in line for significant pay raises.* Affording Houston, plus signing Poe to a new deal, should not be a problem for the Chiefs.

*Chiefs fans need to prepare for life after Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali, and Eric Berry. DJ will be a free agent after 2015 and will be in his mid-30s who is coming off a major injury. Hali will be a free agent at the same time as Johnson (unless he’s cut after this season) and is the same age as Johnson. Berry’s contract demands will not equal his value to the defense, which means letting him walk is probably the right answer for the Chiefs. Will it be sad? Yes. However it is probably the best decision for the Chiefs to move on.

John Dorsey has cap space, the franchise tag, 11 draft picks in 2015, the lack of any major free agents forthcoming in the next two years, and time. The result is Houston doesn’t have the leverage to hold out for a J.J. Watt bank-breaking deal.

Getting a new contract for Houston in the next six months is important to Dorsey, too. The sooner Houston’s contract is finished, the quicker Dorsey can get to the table to negotiate with Poe. Hammering out those two deals will give Dorsey a clear idea of what his salary cap situation is going to look like for the next three-to-four years which will allow him a lot of flexibility when free agency begins.

Houston is going to get paid, though maybe not as much as he’s hoping for, and he’s going to stay in Kansas City. At this stage, it is not a matter of if a Houston deal gets done but when.