The Kansas City Chiefs coach, GM and owner all publicly said on a number of occasions that the Chiefs wanted to sign QB Alex Smith to a contract extension. They did just that on Sunday to the tune of a 4-year, $68 million extension.
Now that Smith has been inked to an extension the focus shifts to linebacker Justin Houston.
Houston is entering the final year of his rookie deal due $1.4 million. He obviously wants to be paid ASAP, which is why he skipped offseason workouts. He has millions of dollars at stake so it's easy to understand his urgency.
Sunday's news that Smith got a new contract is significant because it opens up the franchise tag for Houston. With the franchise tag available, there's little question the Chiefs will use it next season if they're unable to ink Houston to a new contract. Using a first round pick on Dee Ford is evidence of the value the Chiefs place on pass rushers so I can not envision a scenario where the Chiefs would let Houston walk after this season.
Houston can command a lot of money from the Chiefs. It's clear at this point there are differing opinions on what his value is or else we'd have a deal already. The Chiefs have what I believe to be one of the best comps on their roster in Tamba Hali, who has a 5-year, $57.5 million contract ($11.5 million per year). The Packers' Clay Matthews makes over $13 million per year as the highest paid outside linebacker. Mario Williams is a defensive end but his deal with the Bills pays him $16 million per year. Those are some of the key numbers to consider.
Will a Houston deal get done any time soon? Probably not. The Chiefs had over $6 million in cap space before the Smith contract extension. It's harder, cap-wise, to give Houston a new contract because his salary would rise so dramatically from his current $1.4 million. It's possible this is Tamba Hali's last season with the Chiefs which would clear cap space for the Chiefs to use on Houston. But that wouldn't happen until after this season.
By all accounts, Houston is an extremely hard worker and a good teammate. He's a good bet to be very productive over the next few years of his career. The Chiefs drafted Dee Ford last May so that he could play with Houston for years to come, not replace him. Like the Smith deal, if both sides want a deal done, it will usually get done after some uncomfortable periods.
The bottom line is that pass rushers in their prime don't hit free agency very often. The Chiefs can't make Houston the exception.