KANSAS CITY, Mo. – More than two weeks have passed since the end of the 2014 regular season, and one pressing issue remains in limbo.
The Chiefs and outside linebacker Justin Houston’s representatives have had “zero talks” on a contract during that span, a source familiar with the negotiations informed ChiefsDigest.com Thursday.
Houston played the final year of his contract in 2014 and is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent when the league’s new calendar year begins on March 10.
But the current lack of progress on contract negotiations doesn’t necessarily signal doom, according to former NFL agent Joel Corry, who now serves as a salary cap/contracts expert for CBS Sports and the National Football Post.
There is time to get a deal done, and the Chiefs could sit down with Houston’s representative in late February before the league-wide deadline on March 2 for teams to designate its franchise or transition player.
“Probably no later than the (NFL Scouting) Combine,” Corry said in a telephone interview. “There could be a meeting around then where they start laying the foundation or discuss things conceptually.”
The Chiefs may not have to wait until February in Indianapolis to begin face-to-face offseason discussions with Houston’s camp.
A majority of NFL front offices and coaching staffs, including the Chiefs, will converge on Mobile, Ala., on Jan. 19-24 for the annual Senior Bowl.
“That’s actually another place it could happen,” Corry said. “If the agent has any clients at the Senior Bowl, they can meet there, too.”
Still, Corry points out there will likely be changes to what the Chiefs originally had in mind for a long-term contract before negotiations stalled.
“The first thing out of Justin Houston’s representative’s mouth will be, ‘Anything we were talking about before is out the window because my guy went out and almost broke the NFL sack record,’” Corry said. “Negotiations are starting from ground zero now.”
Houston produced a team-record 22 sacks in a single season in 2014, winning the Deacon Jones Award for leading the league in sacks. He is one of 10 players in league history to record 20 or more sacks in a single season since sacks became an official statistic in 1982.
He finished a ½ sack shy from tying the single-season NFL record of 22 ½ sacks established by Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive end Michael Strahan in 2001.
Houston totaled 33 sacks in that past two seasons, marking the second-best totals for back-to-back seasons in team history. His 33 sacks during that span ranks second to the late Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Thomas’ team record of 33 ½ sacks established during the 1990-91 seasons.
Houston, who entered the league in 2011 as the Chiefs’ third-round pick (70th overall), earned a base salary of $1.4 million in 2014, a far cry from the league’s highest-paid outside linebacker, Clay Matthews of the Green Bay Packers.
Matthews, who entered the league in 2009, signed a five-year, $66 million extension in 2013 that pays an average salary of $13.2 million per year.
The Chiefs’ highest-paid outside linebacker is Tamba Hali, who signed a five-year, $57.5 million deal in 2011 that pays an average salary of $11.5 million per year.
“If they wanted to sign Houston for a Clay Matthews deal, they should’ve done it before the season,” Corry said. “From what I understand, they didn’t want to go to Tamba’s number, which was a huge miscalculation if that’s where they were.”
The Chiefs are virtually certain to use the franchise designation on Houston in the absence of a long-term contract, a scenario Corry emphatically opines will happen to prevent Houston from entering the open market.
“There’s no likely to that,” Corry said. “If there’s no deal, he’s not seeing the light of day for free agency.”
Should the Chiefs designate Houston as the franchise player, which would pay the average of the top five salaries at the position, the team will have until July 15 to work out a multiyear contract.
After July 15, Houston can only sign a one-year contract for the 2015 regular season, and that deal can’t be extended until the Chiefs’ final regular-season game.
But there are no guarantees for Houston’s signature to appear on documents if the 2014 offseason offered a hint of displeasure over his contract situation.
He didn’t attend all voluntary organized team activities (OTAs) or report for the team’s mandatory three-day minicamp. The latter absence made him subject to $69,455 in total fines.
Houston eventually reported on time for training camp, and then went on to produce a season that earned him first-team All-Pro honors and a third straight Pro Bowl selection.
“If anything, Houston adjusted his number upward from the year he had,” Corry said. “If Kansas City is not moving off of a Tamba Hali deal, they’re being extremely unreasonable. This is going to become a very bitter negotiation at some point in time. They’re the ones who need to make more of the concessions than Justin Houston. He did what he was supposed to do.”
The Chiefs were reached for comment, but the team declined. The Chiefs typically don’t comment on ongoing contract discussions.