The Kansas City Chiefs signaled they have no intention of parting ways with Justin Houston on Monday, moving swiftly to place the franchise tag on their All-Pro pass rusher.
The Chiefs made the decision to use the non-exclusive designation well ahead of the afternoon deadline, a person familiar with the move told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the team had yet to announce the move.
The 26-year-old Houston set a franchise-record with 22 sacks last season, just a half-sack short of the NFL record. He also made 68 tackles while playing the final year of his rookie deal.
The Chiefs and Houston’s representatives began discussions on a long-term contract last offseason but made little progress. Those discussions resumed this past season, as Houston’s value skyrocketed amid his record-setting sacks pace. But after discussions planned for last week’s NFL scouting combine failed to produce much progress, the franchise tag became inevitable.
Houston would make about $13 million on a one-year contract if he signs the tender, though that’s no guarantee. The two sides still have until July 15 to work out a long-term deal, and it is possible that the fifth-year pro will hold out until training camp or beyond.
“I think Justin Houston is a fine football player,” Chiefs general manager John Dorsey said at the combine. “What he did this year, I mean, he did a wonderful job. Everybody, we applaud him for that. … I’ve had ongoing discussions with his representative.”
Now, though, Houston may also negotiate with other teams. The Chiefs retain the right to match the terms of an offer or receive two first-round picks as compensation.
One battle that could be looming is over Houston’s position. He is considered an outside linebacker in the Chiefs’ base defense, but could be considered a defensive end. If he were to be classified in that position, the franchise tag is expected to be about $14 million.
Regardless of what happens with Houston, the cash-strapped Chiefs will need to make some additional roster moves soon to free up salary cap space for his contract.
They have already parted ways with several backups, including tight end Anthony Fasano, and could begin restructuring contracts or cutting outright some of their most notable players. Among them are wide receiver Dwayne Bowe and linebacker Tamba Hali, both of whom are signed to long-term deals that carry massive salary cap numbers.
Bowe in particular has become the subject of plenty of criticism. Not only does he carry a $14 million salary cap hit, his skillset appears to be on the decline. He failed to catch a touchdown pass last season, along with the rest of the wide receiving corps.
“It’s hard to play in the National Football League,” Dorsey said. “(Bowe) will probably tell you himself that he did not live up to his high standards, but now we have 2015 to come back.”