A person with knowledge of the situation said on Friday that the Chiefs and outside linebacker Justin Houston “are far apart” on a contract extension.
Houston, 25, will make $1.4 million this season on the final year of his four-year rookie contract. He skipped the entirety of the Chiefs’ offseason training activities, though he reported for training camp on time.
At that time, there seemed to be a general sense of optimism regarding the chances of getting a deal done.
“There’s a premium on rushing the passer,” Chiefs general manager John Dorsey said during training camp. “I think everybody understands he’s a really good young football player.”
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But there now appear to be doubts, though there’s still plenty of time between now and the next offseason to get a new contract done.
Tamba Hali’s five-year, $55 million extension should be considered a starting point in the negotiations, but it probably wouldn’t hurt if one of the other elite young pass rushers who are also seeking new deals —including Houston’s J.J. Watt and St. Louis’ Robert Quinn — set the market first.
For instance, when Seattle’s Richard Sherman agreed to a four-year, $57 million extension this offseason, it set the cornerback market at $14 million per season. Considering pass rushers are more valuable than cornerbacks, the Watt- and Quinn-led group of pass rushers could be pushing for something upwards of $16 to 18 million per year.
At that point, it would be up to the Chiefs to decide if Houston, who has recorded 26 1/2 sacks the last three seasons, is worthy of that kind of deal. If not, they could decide to franchise tag him for healthy but not exorbitant sums the next two years — the franchise tag for linebackers this offseason was only $11.4 million.
Teams, however, are only allowed to tag one player per offseason, and after surrendering two valuable second-round picks for quarterback Alex Smith, the Chiefs might have an interesting decision to make they can’t agree to a deal with either player before free agency begins next March.
But it’s worth noting that the franchise tag for quarterbacks this offseason was a good $5 million higher than it was for linebackers, so it’s at least conceivable the Chiefs could opt to lock Houston in for 2015 at the lower rate and take their chances with Smith hitting the market.
Vikings at Chiefs
What: NFL preseason
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Arrowhead Stadium
Radio: KTHR, 107.3-FM
TV: KSCW, Ch. 5
Five things to watch
The Chiefs play the Vikings in their third of four preseason games at 7 p.m. Saturday at Arrowhead Stadium. The game will air on KCTV (Ch. 5) in Kansas City. Here are Chiefs beat reporter Terez A. Paylor’s five things to watch.
1. Score a touchdown
The Chiefs’ first-string offense moved the ball some against the Panthers, but only came away with two long field goals. That’s not going to cut it this week, especially since the starters are expected to play into the third quarter. Of course, it would be much easier if Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe were playing, but the standard doesn’t change just because those guys might not play.
2. Improvement from Davis
The Chiefs will lean a ton on Charles this season, which means he’ll certainly have his share of dings and dents. That’s why it will be important for Knile Davis to firmly establish himself as a reliable No. 2 back capable of breaking a handful of big plays from the running-back position. He’s already done it on special teams — now he needs to show he can do it at his primary position. He could take a step forward by getting upfield faster against the Vikings; there was a little too much East and West stuff against the Panthers.
The Chiefs committed 13 penalties for 131 yards against the Panthers on Sunday, compared to only four penalties for 32 yards for Carolina. In a league where teams are so evenly matched, that’s an easy way to lose games. The Chiefs have to do a better job of staying disciplined with their technique, both on the offensive line and in the secondary.
4. Who plays right tackle?
Chiefs tackle Donald Stephenson was suspended for the first four games of the season on Friday for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. He is still eligible to practice and play during the preseason but the Chiefs will be holding an audition for his replacement in the final two preseason games. Starting left guard Jeff Allen has gotten more work at right tackle in training camp and could be an option which Ricky Henry or Jeff Linkenbach taking his place with the starters at left guard. Other backups on the roster who could get a look at right tackle are Ryan Harris, Linkenbach and J’Marcus Webb.
5. Who will start next to DJ?
Inside linebacker Joe Mays had wrist surgery, so it’s unclear how long he’ll be out. It’s also unclear who his replacement will be in the base 3-4 defense. Nico Johnson, James-Michael Johnson and Josh Mauga have been serving as the top backups, but Mauga has been dealing with a shoulder injury. Regardless, this opens the door for one of them to show what they can do with the first team.