The Chiefs finally did what has been expected for months — they’ve applied the franchise tag to linebacker Justin Houston. And as explained over the weekend (when most of you weren’t devoting non-work time to non-work reading of the Internet), it’s much closer to the start of the process than the end of it.
The Chiefs opted for the non-exclusive version of the tag. On one hand, it’s cheaper than the exclusive level of the tag. On the other hand, it allows another team to sign Houston to an offer sheet that, if not matched by the Chiefs, would result in Houston changing hands for a pair of first-round picks.
Per a league source, Houston intends to aggressively pursue an offer sheet from another team, targeting teams that would be giving up a low first-round pick in 2015 and, most likely, a low first-round pick in 2016. Houston also intends to continue to pursue an offer sheet after the draft, when the compensation necessarily will become a first-round pick in 2016 and 2017.
Houston, we’re told, is seriously considering staying away from the Chiefs until the Week 10 deadline for signing the franchise tender. If nothing materializes by then, Houston would sign the tender, finish the season, and hit the market in 2016 — unless the Chiefs plan to tender him again, at a 20-percent raise over the 2015 franchise tender.
That’s a stark change from Houston’s in-season plan to sign the tender right away, gladly accepting the life-transforming $13 million or so for one year of play. That 22-sack season may have been a factor in Houston’s change of plans.
Finally, Houston will consult with the NFLPA to explore the possibility of filing a grievance seeking the defensive end franchise tender, which will be higher than the linebacker tender. Seven years ago, Ravens and Terrell Suggs engaged in a similar fight, with the two sides agreeing to essentially split the difference. For Houston, it could be a bit more challenging because he actually does play a considerable amount of linebacker, dropping into coverage in some passing situations.
Which makes him more versatile, makes his 22 sacks more impressive, and potentially makes him a lot more attractive to a team with a desperate coach and/or G.M. who may not be around to use the future draft picks that would be sacrificed to get Houston now.