Per source, the #Colts have expressed interest in retaining edge rusher Justin Houston. However, should he reach free agency, I’m told there’s likely a “very strong “ market for the 32-year-old. #NFL https://t.co/bBBHRWReOn
— Matt Lombardo (@MattLombardoNFL) February 23, 2021
The 32 year old longtime Kansas City Chiefs sackmaster just finished the final season of a 2-year, $24M contract he initially signed with the Colts during the 2019 offseason.
Houston’s coming off a season for the Colts in which he recorded 25 tackles (19 solo), 8 tackles for loss, 8.0 sacks, 32 total QB pressures, a forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries, and 2 safeties during all 16 starts for Indianapolis’ much improved defense.
Per PFF (subscription), this past season, Houston received a +63.5 overall grade—having earned an exceptional +87.1 overall grade to go along with his 11.0 sacks and 60 total QB pressures during his 2019 debut campaign (a season prior) with the Colts.
However, in 2020, while his pass rush output may have dipped a bit, Houston did receive a 25% pass rush win rate, which was the 6th best overall in the entire league among all edge defenders per ESPN Analytics.
When Colts general manager Chris Ballard was asked about Houston’s upcoming free agency recently—and whether he’d like to bring him back, he responded as such:
“Look, my relationship with Justin (Houston) goes back to Kan(sas City), we were together for four years in Kansas City,” the Colts GM said a few weeks ago on 107.5 The Fan’s ‘The Dan Dakich Show’. “That led to us (reuniting in Indianapolis), so I’ve been with Justin for six years. He’s a tremendous pro.”
“And again, it’s going to come down to market. We can’t (re-sign everyone), I’d love to say, ‘Let’s just get everybody back.’ That’s just not the reality of how our world works. We have a salary cap that we don’t even know what the number is, and it’s not going up.”
As Houston continues to age into his early 30’s—entering his 11th NFL season, he may be better utilized as a situational veteran sack specialist going forward to maximize his effectiveness and save his legs for select passing downs, instead of an every snap defensive end—run or pass (fwiw: Houston played 59% of Indy’s total defensive snaps this past season).
The Colts value his veteran leadership in the locker room, as he was nominated by the team for the 2020 Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award this past season.
However, it’s possible the Colts could look at some ‘bigger fish’ at defensive end among free agent veteran alternatives—including J.J. Watt and maybe Von Miller (should the latter actually become available).
Perhaps Indianapolis could look at younger pass rushers all together too.
It shouldn’t be necessarily doubted that the Colts have interest in bringing Houston back, but like anything else, it’s presumably going to come down to cost and what else may be available out there realistically for Indianapolis.