While Chiefs defensive tackle Jaye Howard quietly put together the best season of his career in 2015, the Seattle Seahawks — the team that drafted Howard and released him only a year later because of a numbers crunch — watched from afar, perhaps wondering what could have been.
“He’s come on so strong,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said, when asked specifically about Howard at the NFL Scouting Combine. “He had good speed, he moved well … we’ve watched him ever since — he’s one of those ones that got away, so we regret that.”
Howard, it’s safe to say, has come a long way since the Seahawks released him on Aug. 31, 2013, and the Chiefs claimed him off waivers the next day.
Off the field, he got married and had twin sons. On the field, he’s bulked up to 320 pounds while maintaining his quickness, and in 2015, he recorded 57 tackles and a career-best 5 1/2 sacks while emerging as a consistent, disruptive presence along the interior of the league’s seventh-best defense.
“You know what, I think Jaye Howard he came and played — as they said — he played like a grown man,” Chiefs general manager John Dorsey said.
Now Howard is set to hit the free-agent market. And given the importance of pass rushers in today’s NFL — Denver showed that in their victory over Carolina in Super Bowl 50 — not to mention the number of teams flush with cash, it’s safe to say he is positioned to get paid as an unrestricted free agent on March 9.
“He’s played as a one-technique, he’s played as a three-technique and he’s played as a five-technique, and he’s played all well,” said senior NFL Films producer Greg Cosell. “There’s not a lot of those guys ... (but) we saw with Denver what happens (when you have that).
“Obviously (DeMarcus) Ware and (Von) Miller get all the accolades, but (Malik) Jackson and Derek Wolfe inside ... are such critical pieces to their defense.”
The question, of course, is where Howard will end up.
“I’m embracing the opportunity that’s been up in front of me,” Howard told SiriusXM NFL radio on Thursday. “I did the hard part. Now it’s time to let my agent do the work for me. … I’m open to going anywhere. I think my versatility is going to make me be able to fit in any scheme.”
Howard has his share of fans around the league, too, including Cosell.
“Howard is a very overlooked guy on this defense, and has been, I think, for a number of years, just because of the other players they have,” Cosell said. “I wouldn’t say he’s necessarily the same kind of pass rusher as a Malik Jackson, but I think he can be used in a similar fashion where you can line him up inside in a nickel or a dime. I think he does have pass-rush ability, but I think he’s a really good player who can fit in a 3-4 or 4-3.”
Howard has made it known on multiple occasions that he would like to stay in Kansas City. He’s often referred to his fellow defensive linemen like Allen Bailey and Dontari Poe as his brothers — all are around the same age.
“I would love to stay in Kansas City, but I’m open to going anywhere that’s going to allow me the opportunity to continue my success,” Howard said. “Kansas City became home for me and my family. Me and my wife and two boys, they embraced it. I love the fans there, I love the organization, the front-office staff is great, and I’m surrounded by great players and I would love to be there.
“But ultimately, at this point of my career, it’s about my family now.”
And if Howard, by making the best choice for his family, does end up leaving — the Chiefs already paid Bailey and will soon have to pay Poe, so they might be wary of paying three interior linemen big money — his first NFL coach will understand why someone elected to pay him.
“He did a great job, and now he’s one of the top guys in free agency,” Carroll said. “He’s going to be able to cash in because of that.”