The Atlanta Falcons are going to have to finally address its long-streaky pass rush.
Though it appears they’ll be banking on Dan Quinn’s return to defensive-focused coaching and Vic Beasley finding his 2016 self to solve part of that, the team will also have to add at least one veteran presence to the rather-inconsistent rushing group.
Why not Kansas City pass rusher Justin Houston, who looks to be on the trade block?
Sources: The #Chiefs have had trade talks centered around star pass-rusher Justin Houston. With Houston’s cap number and the potential to franchise tag Dee Ford, Houston appears to be a rare top pass-rusher available. Teams have been calling with real interest.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 28, 2019
You can look at it from two angles, one much more promising than the other.
The connections are very much in place for this to work. Falcons Assistant GM Scott Pioli was running the show in 2011 when Houston was drafted out of, where else, Georgia, and former Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton is now on Atlanta’s staff as a senior assistant.
As our friend Steve in Brooklyn notes, GM Thomas Dimitroff also had interest in Houston coming out of school. There are ties that bind.
A trade to Atlanta would send a great pass rusher out of the AFC for the championship-ready Chiefs, which would probably be KC’s preference.
The Falcons have clear need at rusher, and could use a veteran’s guidance to help the younger players like Beasley and Takkarist McKinley. A pass rushing rotation of Houston, Beasley and McKinley would send shivers down the spines of NFC opponents.
The team also has two fourth rounders and two fifth rounders at their disposal to trade. The going price for Eagles DE Michael Bennett was a fifth and a depth receiver, and judging by Houston’s recent stat line (37 tackles, nine sacks), that’s about what Bennett gives a team each season at this stage in his career. A fifth might do the trick.
Though, money is always going to tip its hand here, and Houston is on the books for a $21 million salary in 2019 (per Spotrac), which may mean his camp would push for a trade to a team with a ton of available cap room to ensure that salary happens.
Spotrac says Atlanta only has about $23 million in cap room right now, with Grady Jarrett’s extension (and perhaps franchise tag placement), Julio Jones’ adjustment, the need to still add a decent free agent or two and a new draft class all on the way (which has already been factored into Spotrac’s number).
It’s not a bad thing, but the Falcons are in a tough spot financially. As Houston’s deal stands, it’s impossible to take him on.
But you go back to Houston’s numbers on the field. He’s not had a multi-sack season since 2014, when he had a monstrous 22-sack campaign. Since then, he’s been quieter (7.5 in 11 games in ‘15, 4 sacks in 5 games in ‘16, 9.5 sacks in 15 games in ‘17, 9 sacks in ‘18).
You don’t just judge a pass rusher solely on the sack count, of course, but it is a good barometer for where a player is for his general output. Houston isn’t meeting where his contract is right now, and you wonder if any team would be willing to take on that kind of cap hit for a seven to nine-sack veteran rusher at this point. That’s close to quarterback money. A renegotiated contract might be a given wherever he lands.
From the Falcons’ financial standpoint, either you make some or plan to make some cost-cutting moves in-house, make the trade and renegotiate a much-lowered, backloaded salary extension, or this is all just conjecture.
Also, judging by Houston’s trajectory, Atlanta might be better to wait to see about adding a much less expensive veteran rusher to fill that role. As things stand, they have to add someone, and Houston’s numbers aren’t all that far removed from other established names that will be available, like Bruce Irvin, John Simon, Vinny Curry or William Hayes.
If the Falcons can somehow make it happen financially, don’t be surprised if they pop up in the trade talks. But that’s a big “if,” considering Houston’s current contract. If he’s willing to renegotiate and take a sizable pay cut, perhaps he’s Atlanta-bound this offseason.