For years, he was the most fearsome pass rusher for the K.C. Chiefs defense. Then, in one of the most comprehensive overhauls of a single position in recent team history, Justin Houston was let go. After eight seasons with the team that drafted him, Houston found himself signing with the Indianapolis Colts.
As the Chiefs headed into the 2019 season with a new defensive coordinator in Steve Spagnuolo and an all-new staff of assistants on that side of the ball, general manager Brett Veach went to work on a roster reconstruction, specifically with the team’s pass rush in mind. Houston was released alongside franchise icon Eric Berry. Allen Bailey was allowed to walk as well. The Chiefs then tagged-and-traded Dee Ford to the San Francisco 49ers.
Suddenly the Chiefs were without three of their top four pass rushers from the previous season. In their place were a new cornerstone in Frank Clark via trade and signings like Alex Okafor and Emmanuel Ogbah. Tyrann Mathieu and Juan Thornhill were installed in the secondary. It was a new defense for the Chiefs after letting Bob Sutton go.
On the way out, Houston took the release personally. He felt he still had “plenty in the tank,” and he was anxious to prove his doubters wrong with the Colts. Chris Ballard, the Colts GM, was very familiar with what Houston could bring given his experience in K.C.’s front office. As it turns out, he was right to bet on the motivated veteran.
Some NFL outlets think Justin Houston could re-sign with K.C. Chiefs.
For the last two seasons, Houston has started all 32 games for the Colts, providing them with a proven pass rusher and veteran leader who can help anchor a growing defense in the AFC South. Houston has forced an incredible 3 safeties over the last two years with the Colts, and he’s total 30 quarterback hits and 19 sacks in that span. He’s also forced 3 fumbles and produced 53 total pressures.
Houston is now a free agent again after completing his two-year deal with the Colts. The Chiefs have been to two Super Bowls since Houston’s exit, but now face an interesting offseason in which they’re likely going to wave goodbye to some of the incoming faces from 2019. Okafor is scheduled to hit free agency. Tanoh Kpassagnon has played out his rookie deal. Taco Charlton was a one-year signing, as was defensive tackle Mike Pennel.
For the Chiefs, the line is void of both quantity and quality, which means the Chiefs are likely to fill in the roster blanks with draft picks and free agent signings. Some players could be brought back, but some NFL outlets are bringing up Houston’s name, wondering if there’s a reunion in the cards. Over at Bleacher Report, Kristopher Knox lists the Chiefs as the preferred outlet for Houston in terms of where he’d like to see him go. He writes:
"Houston should surpass the 100-sack mark in 2021, and if he continues to play for a few more seasons, he’ll have a good chance to crack the top 20on the all-time list. Simeon Rice holds the No. 20 spot at 122. That would put Houston firmly in the Hall of Fame conversation, but his case would be boosted tremendously by a Super Bowl ring."
Meanwhile over at FanDuel, Max Staley mentions the Chiefs as the top likely destination for Houston this offseason, above the Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns, and writes:
"He would likely have to take a pretty sizable pay cut given the Chiefs’ salary cap situation, but the potential to contend for a Super Bowl could help offset some of that. Putting Houston alongside the likes of Chris Jones and Frank Clark could take this pass-rush to the next level in 2021."
Staley is right to mention the finances here, because the Chiefs are certainly not in any position to give Houston or anyone else a lucrative payday on the open market. Most teams are going to be spending less, and the Chiefs have already committed big money to pass rushers like Clark and Chris Jones. Anyone coming in is going to be signed to a team-friendly deal or will have a slotted contract via the draft.
Is Houston still a starter outside at this point? It’s hard to say, but a savvy veteran signing who is still chasing his first Super Bowl ring couldn’t hurt. However, Houston would have to be over any hard feelings that remain from his release in the first place. And the Chiefs would have to believe that he is now a fit for Spags somehow after deciding he wasn’t worth keeping around two years ago.
If both sides could make it work, it would be a fun story, to be sure, as Houston could extend his legacy with the team that selected him in the first place.