Red Zone

Chiefs Q&A: A primer on Justin Houston and today’s franchise-tag deadline

The free agency period is only a week away, so The Star’s Terez A. Paylor is diving into your questions with quick-hitting mailbags. This one will revolve solely around the Chiefs’ star outside linebacker Justin Houston (50), who is set to become a free agent.
The free agency period is only a week away, so The Star’s Terez A. Paylor is diving into your questions with quick-hitting mailbags. This one will revolve solely around the Chiefs’ star outside linebacker Justin Houston (50), who is set to become a free agent. The Kansas City Star

The free agency period is only a week away, so I’m diving into your questions with quick-hitting mailbags. This one will revolve solely around star outside linebacker Justin Houston, who is set to become a free agent.

So there’s confusion about the deadline. The deadline to franchise players is today — Monday, March 2 — at 3 p.m. central.

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 average of the five largest prior year salaries at linebacker, which is currently projected to be approximately $13 million, but only if he doesn’t receive any offers from other teams. If he does, the Chiefs could either match the offer or let Houston walk for that team’s first-round picks this year and next.

Teams rarely use the nonexclusive tag because they value first-round picks as much as I value the work of Paula Patton, Taraji Henson, Tinashe and Zoe Saldana (that is to say, a lot).

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.”

No. If they don’t apply the franchise tag to Houston, he will be allowed to hit free agency and almost certainly will not return. He is an elite pass rusher who just turned 26, and teams — including your rival, Oakland — have money to spend. The Chiefs better franchise him, or he will likely be gone.

Besides, franchising him doesn’t prohibit the Chiefs from signing him to a long-term deal. The Chiefs would then have until July 15 to finalize a long-term deal, otherwise he’d play the 2015 season under the franchise number of $13 million.

Things have been pretty quiet for the past week form both sides. My hunch is that the Chiefs are going to have to tag him. If so, they’ll presumably need to slice another $6.5 million in salary by March 10 to accommodate the deal, since all teams have to be under the cap by the start of the new league year.

That number, by the way, is based on the Chiefs already being $6.5 million under the cap, which is based on the moves we already know they’ve made, like the release of Donnie Avery, A.J. Jenkins and Anthony Fasano.

The Chiefs can create more cap room by converting Alex Smith’s 2015 salary to a bonus or agreeing on a lower cap number with Eric Berry, but it’s unclear if the club has done or will do either of those things.

To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send email to tpaylor@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @TerezPaylor.

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