The Chiefs have started the process of keeping one of their best young defensive players in the fold for years to come, as multiple sources told The Star on Friday the team has begun talks with defensive tackle Jaye Howard on a long-term deal.
Howard, 26, has emerged as a force on the Chiefs’ defensive line this season, recording 40 tackles — the fourth-most on the team and the most among any Chiefs defensive lineman or edge rusher. Howard also has six tackles for loss, tied for second-most on the team, and 2 1/2 sacks while playing all along the defensive front.
Howard is listed at 6 feet 3 and 301 pounds, but he said in August that he has bulked up to 330 pounds after playing last season between 300 and 310. The extra weight has not come at the expense of his quickness off the ball — which has always been a weapon of his — and he’s used the combination to disrupt opposing offenses since the start of the season.
According to Pro Football Focus, Howard is the league’s 14th-best interior defensive lineman, which puts him several spots ahead of the Chiefs’ next high-rated player, Allen Bailey, who checks in at No. 49.
Howard has played a total of 405 snaps in nine starts this year, the second-most of any interior lineman on the team, behind only Bailey (440).
Howard is also rated as the league’s third-best interior defensive lineman against the run, ahead of stars such as St. Louis’ Aaron Donald, Arizona’s Calais Campbell and Houston’s J.J. Watt. The Chiefs’ run defense has been significantly better this year, too: After ranking 28th last season, the Chiefs currently check in at No. 8 with 97.7 yards allowed per game.
Howard represents one of John Dorsey’s best finds since Dorsey took over as the Chiefs’ general manager before the 2013 season. The Chiefs claimed Howard — a fourth-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks out of Florida in 2012 — off waivers shortly before the 2013 regular season. The Seahawks possessed a deep defensive line at the time, and proceeded to win the Super Bowl that season.
But Howard has been better than any Seattle interior lineman this season, at least according to Pro Football Focus, and given his age and production, Howard figures to earn a significant salary on the open market if he is allowed to hit free agency this season.
There is hope for a deal, though it remains to be seen if one will get done. Howard’s agent is Drew Rosenhaus, who also represents Bailey — someone the Chiefs signed to a four-year, $24 million extension last season — so the two sides have shown an ability to work together and forge a deal.
If a deal were to get done — and again, it remains to be seen if it will — it would give the Chiefs two big-money interior linemen, with a third, nose tackle Dontari Poe, set to become a free agent soon, as well.
But earlier this year, the Chiefs exercised a fifth-year option in Poe’s contract for 2016 worth approximately $6.1 million, so that gives them at least another year to get something done with the 6-foot-3, 346-pound Poe, who missed the entirety of training camp due to a herniated disk in his back but has still appeared in eight of the Chiefs’ nine games this season.
On Friday, Howard deferred all questions about his contract situation to his agent, though he did say that while any extension would have to make good financial sense — he does have a wife and twin newborns — he certainly prefers to return to Kansas City.
“I want to be here,” Howard said. “These guys are like family, man. These are my boys, man, and I like going to war with my brothers. Bailey, (Dontari) Poe, Nick Williams, (Mike) DeVito. I respect them on the field and we’re good. I know they’ve got my back, and they know I’ve got their back.”
Howard said he also feels comfortable with the coaches and the organization, and would like to be a building block for a defense that currently sits at No. 20 in the NFL with 341.4 yards allowed per game.
“I like Coach (Andy) Reid. I love playing for him,” Howard said. “Love this organization. We’re building something. We’ve got young players. Sooner or later, we’re going to be one of the top-10 (defenses) in the league.”