The Kansas City Chiefs have confirmed: Justin Houston has been given the franchise tag.
"Justin is a talented player and a key contributor to our defense," Chiefs General Manager John Dorsey said in a statement. "Today was the deadline to designate a franchise player, and it was in the best interest of the club to place the tag on Justin. We will continue to discuss long-term options with him and his agent. Our goal is to reach a deal that is mutually beneficial. We want to keep Justin in a Chiefs uniform for years to come."
I tried to answer some of your questions below on what the franchise tag means. The bottom line is that this move secures Houston's rights for the Chiefs at a one-year contract worth a projected $13.1 million. The two sides will continue to negotiate on a long-term deal.
How much is the franchise tag?
The official 2015 numbers have not yet been released but it's been projected that the linebacker franchise tag will be about $13.1 million. That means it would be a one-year, $13.1 million fully guaranteed contract.
Note that Houston could argue he should be designated a defensive end, which is projected to be $14.8 million. I know we call him an outside linebacker but some have suggested the linebacker vs. defensive end fight is coming. That would have to be resolved by someone, either definitively calling him one or the other or coming to some sort of compromise in the middle.
What if Houston doesn't sign the franchise tag?
Houston can sign the tag now and formally become under contract with the Chiefs and attend offseason workouts. PFT reported a few weeks ago he would likely do that. Or ....
A league source tells me Houston is not expected to sign his franchise tender at the moment.— Terez A. Paylor (@TerezPaylor) March 2, 2015
... he could not sign it and sit out for a while. The idea of him not signing it would be him sending a signal to the team that he wants a long-term deal, not the tag. Houston's options outside of playing for the Chiefs are basically non-existent, so I would expect him to sign it ... eventually.
Remember that Houston missed the offseason workouts last year in protest of his contract and still nearly set the NFL record for sacks. So I wouldn't get too caught up in whether he attends offseason workouts or not.
Can the Chiefs still sign Houston to a long-term deal?
Yes, the Chiefs have until July 15 to work out a long-term contract with Houston. If they do not do so by that point, Houston must play out the season under the one-year franchise tender. After the season, the two sides can try again. But before July 15, there's the option of Houston signing a long-term deal with the Chiefs.
How much is Houston asking for in a long-term deal?
We have no idea. Specifics about the negotiations have not hit the media. What we can guess is what Houston should be asking -- I would say around $15 million per year, maybe more. Clay Matthews makes $13 million per year as the highest paid outside linebacker; Houston should easily be above that per year number.
What also to keep in mind is that under the franchise tag Houston would make about $13 million this year and roughly $16 million next year (120 percent increase). So any negotiations between the two sides would need to start at approximately $30 million over the first two years.
I thought this prediction of five years for $75 million was a good one. Of course, that prediction came back in November before he nearly broke the sack record. So it's probably going to be higher than that.
Is it likely that Houston signs a long-term deal?
Eventually, yeah, I would say it's likely. I'll say this: it doesn't happen very often where a team gets rid of a young, Pro Bowl pass rusher. There are examples, yes. But it's certainly not the norm. These things tend to work themselves out, even if you are talking about a ridiculous amount of money.
What is the Chiefs philosophy on the franchise tag?
In two years we have two examples with two different outcomes. The previous regime tagged Dwayne Bowe in 2012 and when John Dorsey and Andy Reid arrived in 2013 they then signed him to a five-year, $56 million deal. That year the Chiefs also applied the franchise tag to Branden Albert. That was just a place-holder tag as the Chiefs let him walk in free agency the following year. So there really is no clear precedent on how they'll handle this -- they've signed the player to a new deal and they've let him walk.
Here is the Chiefs franchise tag history
2013: OT Branden Albert
2012: WR Dwayne Bowe
2011: LB Tamba Hali
2008: DE Jared allen
2002: TE Tony Gonzalez
2000: G Will Shields
1998: DE Dan Williams
1993: DE Neil Smith