With linebacker Justin Houston ready to hit free agency with 22 sacks, the Chiefs have to decide whether to pay Houston or to use the franchise tag. Prior offers were deemed to be substandard by Houston; now that he has completed his rookie deal with a four-sack flourish, the leverage swings sharply in his direction.
And so the franchise tag becomes a very real possibility. Also a real possibility is a fight between player and team over the position he actually plays.
Listed as a linebacker (but wisely not self-described as a linebacker on Twitter), Houston arguably is actually a defensive end, which carries a higher franchise-tag value. Per a league source, Houston’s camp will now examine the 2014 game film to determine whether Houston lined up more as a defensive end than as a linebacker.
If the tape supports an argument that Houston spent more of his time playing defensive end, a grievance will be filed, identical to the grievance filed several years ago by Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs. That time, the two sides worked out a compromise. This time, it could go all the way to an arbitration ruling.
Regardless of the amount of the tag, the two sides will have until July 15 to work out a multi-year deal. If, however, Houston continues to not like the offers made by the Chiefs, he could choose to take it one year at a time until the Chiefs decide to let him hit the open market — or until they give him a long-term deal that reflects something close to his market value.