Chiefs OLB Justin Houston’s return carries plenty of positives

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Outside linebacker Justin Houston’s signing had the brass at One Arrowhead Stadium singing praises Wednesday.

And for good reason, after all.

Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston (50) tackles Denver Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (10) at Arrowhead Stadium on Nov. 30, 2014. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston (50) tackles Denver Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (10) at Arrowhead Stadium on Nov. 30, 2014. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

The Chiefs secured one of the NFL’s premier pass rushers to a six-year, $101 million deal and have the 26-year-old Houston in his prime.

“This is a great day for the Kansas City Chiefs organization,” general manager John Dorsey said during a Wednesday media conference call. “None of this would have been possible without the leadership of (chairman and CEO) Clark Hunt. I think all along – you all know me by now – in situations like this, you have to have a degree of patience. This process has been going on now for seven to 10 months. What’s good is it now kicks off a very positive attitude for training camp.”

Dorsey’s last statement is on target.

The Chiefs no longer have to worry if Houston will be present in training camp. The contract ensures the All-Pro will be on the field when the team’s first full practice kicks off on Aug. 1.

Meanwhile, there are four areas affected by Houston’s return and each section carries a solid level of optimism for the regular season:

PASS RUSH

This is an obvious factor considering Houston has been a dominant force on the edge, totaling 33 sacks the past two seasons.

Of course, Houston’s monster production of a team-record and league-leading 22 sacks in 2014 came during a contract year.

But the fifth-year pro doesn’t believe his new deal will be a deterrent to continued production.

“Once you get paid, it’s not like you won the lottery,” Houston said during a Wednesday media conference call. “You still have a lot of work to do. You still have to prove yourself. You can still get better each and every day, so that is my goal.”

Houston was the only Chiefs defender to finish with double-digit sacks in 2014, while outside linebacker Tamba Hali and defensive tackle Dontari Poe each recorded six to rank second on the team.

Anchored by Houston, the Chiefs totaled 46 sacks in 2014, ranking fifth in the league.

POSITION PLAYER 2014 SACKS
OLB Justin Houston 22
OLB Tamba Hali 6
DT Dontari Poe 6
DE Allen Bailey 5
DL Vance Walker* 2
OLB Dee Ford 1 ½
DB Ron Parker 1
DE Jaye Howard 1
ILB Josh Mauga ½
CB Chris Owens* ½
OLB Josh Martin ½

*No longer with team

PASS DEFENSE

Just how big of an impact does it have on cornerbacks and safeties knowing they have premier pass rushers in front of them?

Safety Tyvon Branch, who joined the Chiefs on a one-year deal in March, explained it best.

“They’ve got Justin Houston and Tamba Hali coming off the edges,” Branch said during his March 13 introductory media conference call. “That’s like a DBs dream to have two guys like that rushing the quarterback.”

The Chiefs’ ability to get to the quarterback played a large role in the defensive secondary not allowing a 300-yard passer in 2014, and the Chiefs finished the season ranked second against the pass (203.2 yards allowed per game).

MORE SPACE

The Chiefs entered Wednesday with $536,899 in remaining cap space, according to the NFLPA Salary Cap Report.

Houston’s deal, however, now gives the Chiefs “$8.63M of salary cap room” in 2015, according to Joel Corry, a contract and salary cap expert for CBS Sports.

That is obviously good money to have heading into the season with a total of 29 players in the final year of their respective contracts.

“I feel that we have enough flexibility to where we’ll be able to do more deals,” Dorsey said during Wednesday’s media conference call. “That’s what you do.”

MATURATION PROCESS

Second-year outside linebacker Dee Ford, the Chiefs’ first-round pick of the 2014 NFL Draft, didn’t see the field much his rookie campaign, playing on just 122 total snaps on defense.

The Chiefs took it slow with Ford last year, much to the chagrin to those clamoring to get the first-round pick on the field.

The question was how? It’s not like Ford, who was learning to play outside linebacker after playing defensive end in college, was going to immediately supplant Pro Bowl outside linebackers Houston or Hali in the starting lineup.

With Houston officially in the fold, the Chiefs once again don’t have to feel obligated to rush Ford into heavy action and can allow him to continue growing until he is 100 percent ready.

Ford’s time is coming soon, however, with Hali turning 32 in November.

Ford saw valuable reps during recent organized team activities and mandatory minicamp during Houston’s absence, and spent time after the regular season to train and study film.

“He’s had a good offseason,” linebackers coach Gary Gibbs said of Ford on June 3. “He’s worked hard in the weight room. He’s bigger, stronger and this is a good experience for him as far as establishing a really good foundation as far as our system, our scheme and he’s competing well for us.”

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Herbie Teope is the lead beat writer and reporter for ChiefsDigest.com. Use the contact page to reach him or find him on Twitter: @HerbieTeope.

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