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Can the Falcons afford Justin Houston?

The once prolific pass rusher will reportedly be cut and the Falcons desperately need a pass rusher.

NFL: AFC Championship Game-New England Patriots at Kansas City Chiefs Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

It is that time of year where there are hundreds of NFL free agents with dozens making sense for the Falcons. Is Justin Houston just a potential fit or a great fit for Atlanta’s (hopefully) new-look defense?

First, let’s look at the conflicting reports regarding Houston’s status.

Matt Verderame is, per his Twitter account bio, a “National NFL reporter for @FanSided.” He is not necessarily a household name and does not report for what is necessarily a household news network. With that said, he did weakly connect the dots to the Falcons.

Additionally, keep an eye on the Atlanta Falcons. Houston is from Atlanta, and the Falcons are also in need of help off the edge.

The report was denied by a national writer who suggests the move could be coming up quick.

There have been multiple reports that the Chiefs have franchised Dee Ford but are open to trading him at the right price. Kansas City would be in trouble if they get rid of their top two edge rushers so the odds of both happening would be unlikely.

At first I balked at Pelissero suggesting a team may trade for Houston’s huge salary, with $15.2 million and $17 million in base salaries the next two seasons. However, considering that Brandon Graham signed for an average of $13.3 million per year, the premium for Houston isn’t unreasonable.

For reference, Graham graded out a bit higher according to Pro Football Focus in 2018 while Houston has an extra 4.5 sacks in the last three seasons despite playing in 16 fewer games.

Let’s circle back on the Falcons.

They desperately need edge help after cutting Brooks Reed, letting Derrick Shelby walk, and Vic Beasley falling into a bottomless pit to never be heard from again. A veteran would be a great addition, so why not a veteran that was drafted by current assistant general manager Scott Pioli. For better or worse, Pioli helped bring in former Chiefs Tyson Jackson, Jon Asamoah, Patrick DiMarco, and Javier Arenas. Pioli drafted Houston with the Chiefs and the pass rusher was one his most successful picks. Houston fits a bit of Quinn’s athletic profile too, reminiscent of his former explosive edge rusher Cliff Avril.

The team does not currently have the cap space to trade for Houston. Thomas Dimitroff would need Houston to sign a three-year deal, or longer, to fit him into the team’s limited cap space thanks to Vic Beasley’s fifth-year option and Grady Jarrett’s franchise tag. He should bring in a little more than Graham, probably closer to $14.5 to $15 million per year.

Cutting Ryan Schraeder could free up just enough cash to get a new deal done with Houston and sign the rookies but leaves little cash for anything else. There is only so much the team can do with 15 percent of cap space dedicated to one great defensive lineman and one that does not appear to be a starter.

The Falcons can sign Houston but he won’t be easy to afford. The braintrust has not appeared willing to be that aggressive.