Justin Houston’s contract situation remains in limbo, but multiple sources confirmed to The Star on Sunday that the Chiefs are expected to meet with Houston’s representative, Joel Segal, at the NFL Combine, which begins Wednesday in Indianapolis.
Houston, a pending free agent, is believed to be a candidate for the franchise tag, which teams can use on one pending free agent per offseason. The period to tender franchise players begins Monday and runs through March 2.
The Chiefs are not expected to designate Houston with a franchise tender before the meeting, a source said.
Pro Football Talk reported the news first.
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The franchise tag for outside linebackers is expected to be in the neighborhood of $13 million. Provided Houston is issued (and signs) a franchise tender, that would result in a significant one-year cap hit for the Chiefs, who cap analyst Joel Corry describes as having less than a million in cap space (with a projected cap of $142 million). The Chiefs have to be under the cap by 4 p.m. the first day of the new league year on March 10, so any franchise tender extended to Houston would result in the team also needing to clear roughly $13 million in cap space by then.
“You don’t have to do it the first day — there’s no need to,” Corry said of applying the franchise tag. “But if they were smart, they’d get this thing done before (Detroit free agent) Ndamukong Suh gets a crazy deal. Because if he gets a crazy deal as a defensive tackle — and defensive tackles aren’t paid like premium pass rushers — that’s another complication.”
There are two types of franchise tags at each team’s disposal: exclusive and nonexclusive. An exclusive tag would keep Houston from negotiating with other teams, but guarantee him the average of the top five salaries at his position based on 2015 cap numbers.
Meanwhile, a nonexclusive tag would pay Houston the same as an exclusive tag, but only if he doesn’t receive any others from other teams. If he does, the Chiefs could either match the offer or let Houston walk for two first-round picks.
“Most guys get the nonexclusive tag, because teams view first-round picks as assets they don’t want to part with,” Corry said.
Theoretically, the Chiefs could also use the transition tag on Houston, but that doesn’t make much sense. That tag would come a little bit cheaper, because it’s based on the average of the top 10 players at the position rather than the top five, and it would allow the Chiefs to match any Houston offer. But there’s no compensatory picks involved, which would allow teams to offer Houston a contract with minimal repercussions.
“That’s basically inviting someone to put an offer sheet on him that Kansas City can’t match because they don’t have a lot of cap room,” Corry said. “There are teams out there with the cap room to do it, too, like the Raiders and Jaguars. So the transition tag isn’t a realistic option.”
Regardless, an exclusive or nonexclusive tender, if signed, would result in a significant raise for Houston, who made only $1.4 million in 2014 as he broke Derrick Thomas’ single-season sack record with a 22-sack campaign.
A decision on whether or not to sign a potential tender has not yet been made, a source said, but even if Houston did sign one, Corry says the two sides would still have until July 15 to negotiate a long-term deal.
The two sides discussed a contract extension last summer, when Houston skipped the entirety of the Chiefs’ offseason training activities before reporting for training camp on time.
But a source told The Star during training camp that the two sides were “far apart” on an extension, and while talks haven’t been terribly productive since then, some answers finally appear to be on the horizon this week — one way or another.