Freeing Justin Houston is the Chiefs most important task

KANSAS CITY, MO - JANUARY 6: Outside linebacker Justin Houston
KANSAS CITY, MO - JANUARY 6: Outside linebacker Justin Houston /

If the Kansas City Chiefs are going to have a successful offseason, it’s going to be because they were able to free up Justin Houston.

Right before I married my wife, a mentor/friend gave me a piece of advice: “Tell your story often.”

That was it. One line. No context of where he got it, or explanation why he said it or even an application of what it means for his own marriage. Four words. I’ve never forgotten them.

In the 12 years since that moment, I’ve realized (over and over) why he gave me the advice. It’s saved the very marriage we were celebrating that day.

Telling the story—telling our story—has kept my wife and I focused on what is most important time and again. It’s healthy for me to return to the emotions and experiences of when I first saw her, when I first asked her out, when I proposed and when we repeated our vows. In the midst of fights and tension, confusion and sorrow, a toddler and bills, our story keeps us connected to what is most important. A banner over the chaos to keep us grounded.

I write all of this because “tell your story often” is good advice for any endeavor, even serving as a general manager of an NFL franchise. For Brett Veach, it’s vital all through a very long and emotional offseason that he tells the correct story about the Kansas City Chiefs. It can be easy, I’m sure, to lose focus when a signing doesn’t work out or a team trades up to grab the player in your sights.

Telling your story keeps you from acting disproportionally or forgetting what is most important.

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For the Chiefs, an accurate story is one that tells of a single defensive player, greater than all the rest in the land, who has been left to his own devices for far too long: Justin Houston. More than Marcus Peters, more than Eric Berry, more than Tyreek Hill or even the likely potential of Patrick Mahomes, Justin Houston is the single most talented player on the roster. Unfortunately, somehow the roster construction has forgotten the story.

Coming into 2017, the Chiefs pass rush had Houston and then no sure thing. Dee Ford was dealing with inconsistency (and becoming more well-rounded). Tanoh Kpassagnon was a total project, as was Dadi Nicolas and Ukeme Eligwe. Tamba Hali said all the right things, but it didn’t take long for the Chiefs to muzzle him with an IR placement that had fans scratching their heads.

Fast forward and things went even worse than expected for the entire unit. Ford leaned more toward “bust” than ever before with limited production when he was healthy (which was not often). We know as almost as much now about Kpassagnon, Eligwe and Nicolas as we did 10 months ago. Hali’s knees couldn’t hold up, and there’s zero chance he remains on the roster for another season. And if you’re wondering whether a mystery figure stepped up instead, the answer is no.

The good news is that Justin Houston was healthy for 16 games. He was also the team’s leading pass rusher with 9.5 sacks. He sealed the edge with the best of them, consistently disrupted the pocket and showed well-rounded skills in coverage as well. Unfortunately, he was dropped back into coverage way too much, took on countless double and triple teams and often had zero help from extra blitzers and/or a mediocre defensive line.

This season, something has to change. Namely, Houston needs help and he needs predictable help. The Chiefs simply cannot allow Houston and some seedlings take the field again with fingers crossed. He’s too important to the story.

For the Chiefs to remember what is most important is to remember that Justin Houston is a game-changing force on every down. He will wreck a team’s offensive plan. He has myriad moves, incredible strength, wonderful instincts and won’t back down from anyone. He’s bested every elite booked and hurried the most patient quarterbacks.

The Chiefs need to tell themselves over and over that Justin Houston needs significant help. That’s the story of the Chiefs in 2018—at least the one that ends in success. Eric Berry’s return will help. A better overall secondary will give him another few milliseconds to do his thing. But he needs literal, dependable help in the front seven, specifically at edge rusher where someone else can help shoulder the load (and enjoy the distraction he creates).

Next: 5 FA targets for the Chiefs defense

Whether it’s a heralded rookie who has proven his pass rushing prowess at a high level in the collegiate ranks, a nice veteran addition with plenty in the tank (or even better, both of those), the Chiefs need to stay focused on the central theme of their story in 2018: free Justin Houston to be the game-wrecking force he can clearly be.