Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston’s holdout may not stretch deep into training camp after all.
Houston, who skipped the Chiefs’ offseason training activities, is expected to report for the start of training camp, a person with knowledge of the situation confirmed to The Star on Wednesday.
The source said Houston, 25, who will make $1.4 million this season on the final year of his four-year rookie contract, will likely report even if he isn’t given a contract extension before camp starts. Pro Football Talk first reported Wednesday that Houston was likely to attend the start of camp even if he wasn’t pleased about his contract status.
Houston’s disappointment about a lack of a new deal could still cause him to change his mind about reporting on time, according to the source, who added that the Chiefs have not made a formal offer, though there have been talks and an offer could still be extended during training camp.
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Training camp begins for veterans on July 24 at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, and players who miss camp are subject to fines of $30,000 per day.
But Houston, who was fined approximately $70,000 for skipping the team’s three-day mandatory minicamp in late June, can stay on track to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2014 season if he avoids a long camp holdout.
According to the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, players who don’t report to camp 30 days before the league’s first regular-season game, which is Sept. 4 between the Packers and Seahawks, will forfeit an accrued season.
That means if Houston doesn’t report by Aug. 5, he would become a restricted rather than unrestricted free agent, which would cost him a large payday via a new deal, franchise tag or transition tag.
For example, if Houston were a restricted free agent, the Chiefs could sign him to a qualifying offer and let him shop for a new deal around the league. If he finds one, the team that signs Houston would have to forfeit a draft pick unless the Chiefs match the offer. If the Chiefs let him walk, they would receive a draft pick tied to the qualified offer. A first-round tender was only $3.1 million last season.
If Houston still doesn’t get the big extension he seeks but decides to report to training camp on time anyway, both sides could still win as he’ll become eligible for the franchise and transition tags.
The Chiefs have two options when it comes to the franchise tag. They could make him an “exclusive” franchise player, who cannot sign with another club but would receive a one-year salary worth the average of the top five salaries at his position. Not one player was designated as an exclusive franchise player this offseason.
They could also make Houston a “non-exclusive” franchise player, meaning he could negotiate a new deal with any club, although whichever team that signs him would then have to send two first-round draft selections to the Chiefs. Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy, Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, Jets kicker Nick Folk and Washington linebacker Brian Orakpo were all designated with that tag this offseason, but predictably, none changed teams.
Finally, the Chiefs could make Houston a “transition” player, which would likely pay him the average of the top 10 salaries at his position or allow him to sign a contract with another team, though the Chiefs would again have an opportunity to match. This offseason, Cleveland center Alex Mack and Pittsburgh outside linebacker Jason Worilds were designated with that tag, and neither changed teams.
Teams are only allowed to tag one player per offseason, and after surrendering two valuable second-round picks for quarterback Alex Smith, the Chiefs might be reluctant to lose him as well next spring if both players are intent on exploring unrestricted free agency.
Though the June release of cornerback Brandon Flowers opened up $7.5 million in salary-cap room and seemed to indicate movement on the Smith and Houston fronts, this isn’t necessarily a “use-it-or-lose-it” proposition. If the Chiefs’ current cap space of $9.4 million goes unused this season, that money can be rolled to next year’s cap.
Houston, whose salary is the third-lowest among the Chiefs’ projected starters on defense, registered 11 sacks in 11 games last season, earning his second Pro Bowl berth and a Pro Football Focus grade of 32.5, which was tops among the league’s 3-4 outside linebackers.
Other fourth- or fifth-year players around Houston’s age have agreed to lucrative extensions this offseason, including Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman and Pittsburgh center Maurkice Pouncey.
Houston, who went from a likely first-round pick to a third-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft because of a failed drug test at the combine, wants similar financial security.
It’s unclear how much he’s seeking, but the five-year, $57 million extension that fellow Chiefs outside linebacker Tamba Hali signed a few years ago is a good starting point.