On Monday, the Kansas City Chiefs applied the franchise tag to NFL sackmaster Justin Houston. This was the correct move, but yet there is no reason to celebrate.
General manager John Dorsey has been vocal enough throughout the offseason that the Chiefs would not allow Houston to hit free agency. The hope was that Dorsey and Houston's agent, Joel Segal, could come to an agreement on a long-term deal. Instead, the sides could not get a contract put together, and Kansas City was left to apply the tag.
The problem here is two-fold. First, the Chiefs lose a ton of 2015 cap space. If Kansas City had been able to sign a long-term contract with Houston, it could have kept his first-year cap number around $7-8 million with bonuses. Instead, the Chiefs have to pay $13 million against the cap.
What does this mean? Well, it hurts the odds of Tamba Hali or Rodney Hudson returning. It could also put Dwayne Bowe's departure on the fast track, depending on how other situations shake out. The Chiefs need to be under the salary cap by March 10, and are currently about $6 million over when you take into account Houston's franchise tag. They can get below the threshold by releasing Mike DeVito and another player (Vance Walker, Joe Mays) or by converting Alex Smith's base salary into bonus (savings of $8.2 million). Still, it puts Dorsey in a tough position.
The second problem here is the potential ramifications down the road. If Houston signs the tag and plays 2015 on it, he would then become a free agent in 2016. Once July 15 comes around, the Chiefs can no longer negotiate with Houston until the season is over. At that point, Houston will probably want to test the market. That is if the Chiefs don't reach a long-term deal with him or place the franchise tag on him a second time at a 20 percent mark-up from 2015.
The best thing that could happen for Kansas City is Houston holding out. If he does, the Chiefs will be forced to sign him to a long-term pact. They will not start the season or even go too deep into training camp with their best defensive player sitting on the sidelines. After the year Houston amassed in 2014, it would be a terrible look.
Houston has motivation to sign a deal, too. If he were to play on the tag and suffer an unfortunate injury, his stock will plummet. Giving back a few dollars to get security is commonplace in the NFL, and something Houston will undoubtedly think about. For Kansas City, it should hope Houston mulls over his position and waits to hit the field until he has a shiny new contract.
Dorsey made the right move by tagging Houston, but it rings as a failure on both sides that a deal could not be reached.