I was talking on Wednesday with Danny Parkins and Carrington Harrison on 610 Sports about whether Alex Smith or Justin Houston will receive a new contract first. I was leaning towards Alex Smith because the Chiefs have talked so much about wanting to get that deal done but now that I think about it, Houston might make more sense as the one most likely to get a new deal first.
Houston held out out from the offseason program, and could hold out for training camp, too (no word yet if he will or not). Smith has not been holding out. So in terms of the pressure to get something done, Houston's probably higher than Smith.
That's just one theory though. What I really want to talk about today is how much Houston can command in a new contract. The structure of the contract is hard to figure out; the ballpark contract isn't so hard.
Clay Matthews is the highest paid outside linebacker at about $13.2 million per year. Right behind him is Trent Cole at $12.1 million per year and behind him is the Chiefs own Tamba Hali at $11.5 million per year. These numbers according to Spotrac and Over The Cap.
For the floor, we can probably assume that Houston isn't going to make less than Hali, who signed his new deal shortly after training camp started in 2011. That suggests the floor would be $11.5 million per year. On a five-year deal, that would be at least $57.5 million, which is what Hali received.
For the ceiling, could Houston command more than Matthews' $13.2 million per year? It makes sense to me that they would ask for that. Over five years, that would be $66 million. The ceiling would be ... something above that.
The length of the contract matters here, too. Houston is only 25 years old. Could he sign a shorter deal (three years?) and have another crack at free agency in the prime of his career? I'm sure the Chiefs would prefer a longer contract than that.
The structure of the deal also matters. What did the Chiefs do with D-Bowe's deal? "Bowe's five-year, $56 million deal contains a signing bonus ($15 million), a fully guaranteed first-year base salary and player-friendly base-salary guarantees in the second and third years," former NFL agent Joel Corry wrote for CBS Sports. He says to expect a similar structure with Houston and Smith's new deals.
The Chiefs have some leverage here. Houston has one year remaining on his rookie contract, where he is scheduled to make a $645,000 base salary. The Chiefs can also use the franchise tag, which was nearly $10 million last season for defensive ends. That number will go up slightly next season. So, with his rookie deal and two years of the franchise tag, the Chiefs could keep Houston to the tune of $25-ish million over three years. But that probably wouldn't make Houston happy. And the Chiefs want Houston mad at the opposing quarterback, not at the front office.
What this boils down to is that Houston is going to make a lot of money. It's just a matter of when it happens and how it's structured.