His name is still a dirty word around Atlanta. When he is spoken of, it is often derisively, with many fans admitting to liking him but not, ultimately, being satisfied with his play. They call him toast when they're not cursing him out. For a team with a long history of disappointing cornerbacks, Chris Houston was just the most recent punching bag.
The Falcons traded him to the Lions for a song back in 2009, generating rare mixed feelings from Falcons fans. The feeling was that Houston, a Bobby Petrino draft pick out of Arkansas back in 2007, had never been anything special, but surely he was worth more than the Falcons got? In the end, though, a solid 2009 season didn't do enough to overcome the wellspring of hatred toward him, and Houston never really meshed with the coaching staff. He was out.
Fast forward one and a little over a quarter of a season and Houston is Detroit's best cornerback. The complaints that Falcons fans had about him—he never turned his head, he took bad angles, he was Chris Houston—have evaporated.
What happened with Houston? How did a man widely reviled in Atlanta become the toast of Detroit?
The short answer: We don't know, entirely. But sometimes, when the talent is already there, a change of scenery really matters.
In Atlanta, Houston came in with the expectation that he would be a very good cornerback. He had the speed and physicality to be one, and despite being deeply conflicted about him the entire time he was here, I have to acknowledge that I was a little disappointed he was shipped out. He was that kind of player. A polarizing one, to be sure. But one thing can't be denied: He never really delivered on that promise as a Falcon. There were swirling rumors about his work ethic, and he was drafted by a previous regime.
Houston was ultimately further undercut by a lack of faith in his abilities from the coaching staff, which saw him turn in an above average season in 2009 marked by a few of his trademark dumb plays and a lack of interceptions. After 2009 turned out to be a bit of a disappointing season in comparison to 2008, the Falcons felt they needed to upgrade at the position. With Dunta Robinson coming to Atlanta, Brent Grimes growing into a terrific young cornerback and Chris Owens in the fold, the Falcons felt there wasn't enough room for Houston. So they did the sensible thing, in their minds, by getting something back for him.
Could Houston have been successful in Atlanta? I'm sure he could have, had the coaching staff not elected to go get Dunta Robinson, had he been confident in his starting job, had a million little variables gone another way. Ultimately, though, he was traded to a new team that wanted him, put him in the starting lineup and let him know he was valued. He responded with bravura, and the rest is history.
History is littered with these kinds of players. The Falcons have gotten a lot more out of Michael Turner than the San Diego Chargers ever did, for example. There's nothing to be done about it, but you have to tip you cap to Houston. He became a much better player than I thought he would be.
Of course, that doesn't mean Roddy White shouldn't or won't eat him alive. There's a limit to the good feelings you get from a reunion, after all.