In the coming weeks, the Kansas City Chiefs will have 24 impending free agents to make decisions on. Although this year’s in-house class doesn’t feature impact players that rise to the level of Chris Jones or Patrick Mahomes last offseason, general manager Brett Veach will again need to get creative in retaining valuable depth pieces despite some financial constraints.
As such, Kansas City figures to do more spring cleaning of its roster than shopping as it works to clear between $18-23 million in salary cap space before March 17. However, the front office has proven it’s not opposed to savvy additions if the right player in the right situation presents himself. Fortunately, the Chiefs’ recent success — five straight division titles, three consecutive AFC Championship appearances and back-to-back Super Bowl runs — has given the club an advantage in luring fringe free agents who want to play for a serious contender.
In a recent exercise pinpointing a few NFL veterans who could be best suited to “ring chase” in 2021 free agency, Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox floated the idea of a potential reunion between the Chiefs and former All-Pro pass rusher Justin Houston.
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Could Colts QB Situation Force Houston to Look Elsewhere?
Still in search of an elusive Super Bowl title, Houston, who turned 32 years old last month, is fresh off of two healthy, productive seasons with the Indianapolis Colts. The team, however, missed the playoffs at 7-9 in 2019 and failed to advance past the AFC Wild Card round in 2020 despite an 11-5 run behind the since-retired Philip Rivers.
With upwards of $70 million in available salary cap space, the Colts would have no issues re-upping with Houston on a short-term deal, however, uncertainty under center could force the dominant edge rusher to reconsider his options.
Here is what Knox had to say about Houston’s outlook:
The 32-year-old defender is still productive, too, having amassed 19 sacks over the past two seasons with Indianapolis.
Houston should surpass the 100-sack mark in 2021, and if he continues to play for a few more seasons, he’ll have a good chance to crack the top 20 on the all-time list. Simeon Rice holds the No. 20 spot at 122. That would put Houston firmly in the Hall of Fame conversation, but his case would be boosted tremendously by a Super Bowl ring.
Returning to Indianapolis could help Houston earn a title if the team is able to fill its quarterback vacancy. A return to Kansas City or a move to a team like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could also put him in title contention.
After missing 21 games during his final four seasons in Kansas City, Houston managed to stay on the field for all 32 regular season games since joining the Colts on a two-year, $24 million deal in March 2019. Perhaps unfortunately for Kansas City’s chances, the 10-year veteran has continued to produce at an above-average level, which could price his services above the Chiefs’ budget.
Chiefs DE Depth, Cap Space Remain Question Marks
The Chiefs originally selected Houston in the third round (No. 70 overall) of the 2011 NFL Draft, and after three Pro Bowls and 48.5 sacks in his first four seasons — including a league-high 22.0 in 2014 — the team rewarded him with a new six-year, $101 million contract in July 2015. However, like many modern-day megadeals, Kansas City found itself kicking the can down the road, eventually releasing the All-Pro just four years into the agreement to clear $14 million from its books in 2019.
Currently, Kansas City’s defensive end depth is a bit top-heavy with Frank Clark, Tanoh Kpassagnon and some promising, but very inexperienced youngsters — Mike Danna and Tim Ward — rotating in behind them. Alex Okafor, who has battled injuries but posted 8.0 sacks in 21 games over the last two seasons, is also scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. Now on the other side of 30, the Chiefs may be better off exploring other options who could provide more consistent snaps while helping to develop young talent.
On the topic of Clark, his bloated $37.8 million dead cap number prevents him from being released this offseason, but the team does have an out in 2022 as that number drops to a more reasonable $12.9 million total, along with $19.8 million in potential cap savings. There has been no indication that the Pro Bowler is in danger of being let loose next year, but the option could present itself should the team’s finances remain tight or Clark’s production drops off in his age 28 season.
If Houston does end up testing the market in March, Kansas City might just be able to make the stars align for a short-term reunion. Until Veach and company being to implement their next round of changes to free up some spending money, the idea remains nothing more than a pipe dream.
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Chris Licata is an NFL contributor covering the Kansas City Chiefs from enemy territory in Denver, Colorado. Follow him on Twitter @Chris__Licata or join the Heavy on Chiefs Facebook community for the latest out of Chiefs Kingdom!