KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Chiefs made sure one of the NFL’s top pass rushers won’t enter the market as an unrestricted free agent when the league’s calendar year begins on March 10.
The Chiefs on Monday morning applied the non-exclusive franchise designation on outside linebacker Justin Houston, a source familiar with the transaction confirmed with ChiefsDigest.com.
NBC’s ProFootballTalk.com was the first to report the non-exclusive franchise designation; ESPN’s Adam Schefter was the first to report the Chiefs franchised Houston.
The Chiefs eventually announced the transaction Monday afternoon.
“Justin is a talented player and a key contributor to our defense,” general manager John Dorsey said in a statement released by the Chiefs. “Today was the deadline to designate a franchise player, and it was in the best interest of the club to place the tag on Justin. We will continue to discuss long-term options with him and his agent. Our goal is to reach a deal that is mutually beneficial. We want to keep Justin in a Chiefs uniform for years to come.”
In the meantime, Houston can negotiate with other teams as a non-exclusive franchise player.
The Chiefs, however, can match any extended offer. In the event the Chiefs choose to not match an offer, the team signing Houston would owe the Chiefs compensation in the form of two first-round draft picks, one this year and one next year.
Monday’s transaction comes as no surprise when considering negotiations in the past year between the Chiefs and Houston’s representative failed to produce a long-term contract.
The Chiefs now have until July 15 to work on a multiyear contract or extension, in accordance with NFL rules. After July 15, Houston can only sign a one-year contract with the Chiefs for the 2015 season, and that contract “cannot be extended until after the club’s last regular season game,” according to NFL rules.
Houston is not expected to immediately sign the one-year franchise tender, a source familiar with the situation informed ChiefsDigest.com. The franchise tag for the linebacker position is worth $13.19 million.
Still, a player not promptly putting his signature on a franchise tender is not unheard of. The Chiefs placed the franchise tag on wide receiver Dwayne Bowe in 2012, but Bowe didn’t sign the tender until after training camp.
The 26-year-old Houston played the final year of his rookie contract in 2014 and went on to lead the NFL in sacks with 22, which set a single-season team record and was a ½ sack shy from tying the NFL single-season record.
Houston became one of 10 players in NFL history to notch 20 or more sacks in a single season since sacks became an official statistic in 1982. He earned a first-team All-Pro selection by The Associated Press in 2014, and was selected to a third straight Pro Bowl.
Houston played the 2014 season earning a base salary of $1.4 million.
In comparison, Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews, the league’s top earner at the position, earns an estimated $13.2 million annual salary. Chiefs outside linebacker Tamba Hali earns an estimated $11.5 million per year.
Houston, a fourth-year pro out of Georgia, has totaled 48 ½ sacks since 2011 to rank sixth on the Chiefs’ all-time sacks list.
His 33 sacks in the past two seasons ranks as the second-best total in a two-year span in franchise history since the late Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Thomas recorded 33 ½ sacks during the 1990-91 seasons.