For all the talk surrounding the big name wide receivers on the franchise tag, it was the Chiefs and outside linebacker Justin Houston making the most noise with a record setting six year, $101 million contract for Houston. According to Jason LaCanfora, Houston will earn $32.5 million in full guarantees and $52.5 million in injury guarantees. He also stated that he will earn $52.5 million by March of 2017 which might indicate the biggest contract for densive players not named Suh.
Here is how the current landscape shakes out among pass rushers.
The language in LaCanfora’s tweet is interesting and makes me think Houston may have surpassed the others. $43 million by March of 2016 and $52.5 by March 2017 indicates large offseason payments either in the form of roster bonuses or option bonuses, the latter of which is not really typical for Kansas City. That means there is still salary to be accounted for between March and the end of the regular season. Given that the Chiefs are typically big on workout bonuses those are likely in there plus at the least the required minimum P5 salary. Based on that it would seem firm that Houston surpassed Watt’s $43 million two year total and has an outsie chance at surpassing the $54 million three year total. This contract blows away the Clay Matthews deal which was the standard for 34 outside linebackers.
Unlike the other tagged players, Houston had leverage in his negotiation. The Chiefs had the most difficult cap situation remaining in the NFL with just slightly over $500,000 in cap room remaining. That figure included Houston on a $13.2 million tender. They needed to bring his cap figure down by at least $4 million to function this year. If not they would need to rework other contracts. Their cap situation should improve next season.
The $32.5 million in full guarantees is impressive. He would have earned just over $29 million the next two years if he was tagged two times in a row. So the Chiefs conceded an additional $3.5 million guaranteed and if the $43M plus number is accurate, over $11 million in additional salary. The three year salary is also likely bigger than or at the least very similar to being tagged three times in a row. So this is a very big deal for Houston, especially given his situation.
The massive contract given by the Chiefs shows why teams really should not wait for certain players unless there are significant questions about them. Houston had 22 sacks over the 2012 and 2013 seasons despite missing five games. Once Robert Quinn signed last summer for over $14 million it was clear that the market for pass rushers was going to be excessive. With Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy both set for free agency and likely setting records for interior linemen, the wait seemed ill advised for Kansas City especially given their cap situation. Better to have gotten the clock moving on bonus prorations last season than this one.
The biggest beneficiary of the contract will be Von Miller of the Broncos whose asking price likely goes sky high with so many rushers now into the $16M+ territory. Also helped by this is Greg Hardy, Aldon Smith, and Jason Pierre Paul, all of whom have major question marks surrounding them, but can expect to earn big if they hit free agency and have big seasons this year.