ST. JOSEPH, Mo. – Whether Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston desires to be in training camp remains to be seen.
The fourth-year pro, who enters the final year of his contract, previously didn’t attend voluntary organized activities (OTAs) or mandatory minicamp.
But regardless how Houston may privately feel about his contract situation, he was present Thursday afternoon when the Chiefs officially kicked off training camp.
“I think that’s a positive thing there,” coach Andy Reid said. “I’m glad he’s here. He’s a big part of this team.”
Inside linebacker Derrick Johnson echoed Reid.
“That’s big,” Johnson said. “We need all of our guys here, and we’ve got all of our weapons. We just need to put this core group of guys together, get the system down, get our chemistry down. We’ve got a lot of bullets to fly this year.”
Of course, Houston fielded questions related to his contract and his immediate responses sounded familiar.
“That is in God’s hands,” Houston said. “I am here now to play football. I am not worrying about that. I am here to help better the team, do what the coaches ask to do.”
OK, but are negotiations progressing considering the Chiefs and running back Jamaal Charles agreed on Wednesday to a two-year extension?
“When it is time for me to get that deal done,” he responded, “it is going to happen. God has got a plan, so when it’s ready for that to happen, it is going to happen.”
Is it possible to concentrate without the contract becoming a distraction?
“I’m not worrying about that contract,” Houston said. “When it’s time for that to happen, it’s going to happen. My main focus is football. If you’re worrying about that contract, it will slow you down from the things you have to do on the field. I don’t want that to happen.”
Message received, loud and clear.
Houston, 25, doesn’t have a problem with the football aspect, as the two-time Pro Bowl selection offers the Chiefs one of the league’s elite outside pass rushers.
The former Georgia Bulldog has 26.5 sacks since the Chiefs selected him in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft, including 21 in the past two seasons. His salary, however, isn’t comparable to his performance.
Houston enters the 2014 season earning a base salary of $1.4 million, arguably grossly underpaid given his production.
For comparison, Houston’s sack totals since 2011 are equal to the NFL’s highest-paid outside linebacker, Clay Matthews of the Green Bay Packers, in that span. Matthews signed a six-year, $69.73 million contract in 2013.
Houston’s teammate, Tamba Hali, signed a five-year, $57.5 million extension in 2011. The Chiefs’ bookend pass rushers combined for 22 sacks in 2013.
The good news is the Chiefs could fit Houston within the current $9.46 million cap space if the extension is patterned after Hali’s deal, according to former NFL agent and salary cap/contracts expert Joel Corry.
“Tamba had a $15 million signing bonus with his deal,” Corry said in a telephone interview. “There was $35 million guaranteed, but the rest was salary guaranteed. So if going on that model, Houston would use up $3 million cap room because his base salary is so low. You couldn’t really change it to lessen the additional cap hit this year.”
Ultimately, what happens next will occur behind the scenes between the Chiefs front office and Houston’s representatives.
And Houston prefers to not think about that side of the house.
“I am not even worrying,” Houston said. “I am here to play ball. I am focused on the season, taking it one day at a time.”