Buckle up, Chiefs fans: If Houston stays, another popular vet likely goes

The Chiefs have several things to sort out financially in order to meet Justin Houston's contract demands. 

Denny Medley/USA TODAY Sports

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — He was going to be tagged right away. Then he was going to sign the tender right away.

And then he wasn’t.

They don’t call it the silly season for nothing.

The upside for Kansas City Chiefs fans is that a contract (and, justifiably, a raise) for Justin Houston still feels like a "when" and not an "if." General manager John Dorsey bobbed and weaved a bit at the podium Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis before tossing out this:

So the nightmare flashbacks about Jared Allen can get tucked neatly back into Pandora’s box, all safe and sound. The four major questions regarding Big No. 50 are the same ones now, more or less, that they were in October:

1. Tag or extension?

2. When does this get done?

3. How much will he get?

4. Who gets lopped in order to cover it?

In order:

1. Houston’s agent, Joel Segal (and folks from Segal’s camp) have been talking with Dorsey and the Chiefs this week in Indy (as reported), just as they did at the Senior Bowl.

Lookin’ good! Flip through our photo album of NFL cheerleaders.

"His representative is in town," Dorsey confirmed to reporters Thursday. "I’ve had ongoing discussions with his representatives."

An extension is possible at any time between now and mid-July — and more on that in a minute — but if an extension were to get done before the tag deadline of March 2, we’re somewhere between the 10th and 11th hour of negotiations.

"I’ve got full trust in John," coach Andy Reid told reporters earlier in the week.

2. There are really two deadlines at play here. The Chiefs have until March 2 to use the tag on Houston (or center Rodney Hudson, or whoever). Then once the player has the tag, that player is effectively off the open market, and his tagging team has an exclusive window through July 15 in order to work out a long-term deal.

But the tag is also something of a small Catch-22 for the player: If he signs it, the money for that one-year tender is fully guaranteed. But the player is also required at that point to attend all mandatory training camps and offseason training activities, the spring segment of which Houston skipped in 2014. The team could choose to withdraw the tender if it isn’t signed, but that gambit seems unlikely.

3. In April 2013, Green Bay outside linebacker Clay Matthews, whose career splits mimic Houston’s on several fronts, signed a five-year, $66 million extension. So the bidding probably starts at around $13 million annually, regardless. Based on reported estimates, Houston would probably get a $13.17 million tender if tagged as a linebacker.

Nice work, if you can get it.

Especially considering Houston was more or less the Russell Wilson of AFC defensive bargains over the past two falls, with base salaries of $1.598 million last fall and $555,000 in 2013.


4. Possibly someone you like. A lot.

Cutting Donnie Avery and A.J. Jenkins were just mild trims ($4.73 million in cap savings, combined) compared to the shaving to come. The Chiefs could open up $9 million by cutting ties before June 1 with outside linebacker/Houston tag-team partner Tamba Hali, who will be turning 32 in November; $5.45 million by doing the same with safety Eric Berry; $5.25 million with linebacker Derrick Johnson; $5 million with wideout Dwayne Bowe; $4 million with defensive end Mike Devito; $3.8 million with backup quarterback Chase Daniel; $2.7 million with linebacker Joe Mays; and $1.959 million with tight end Anthony Fasano.

So pick your poison — there are a lot of ways to do this. But several of them could be painful, which puts even more pressure on Dorsey’s haul in the 2015 draft in order to backfill those likely veteran holes.

"You’ve known me for a couple years now. I really don’t like talking about the business of football in this venue," the Chiefs’ general manager continued when asked about roster turnover. "I will say this: I love those guys, I’m proud of those guys and what they bring to that locker room."

With an estimated cap space of $1.316 million, according to OverTheCap.com, that love is about to be sorely tested.

You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter at @SeanKeeler or email him at seanmkeeler@gmail.com.