There are really only two guaranteed ways to succeed in the modern-day NFL and they both involve the quarterback. Either develop a really good one or make darn sure you can get to the opposition’s.
Over in the Show Me State, the Kansas City Chiefs have a competent signal caller in Alex Smith, but the veteran is never going to be mistaken for truly elite throwers like Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady or Peyton Manning despite his status as a former No. 1 overall pick. What the Chiefs do have, however, is perhaps the best edge, pass-rushing duo in the sport in Justin Houston and Tamba Hali.
Despite some acrimony at times Kansas City took the plunge on Wednesday, finally committing to Houston by signing the sack artist to a landmark, six-year, $101 million deal which includes $52.5 million in guaranteed money.
“They told me at the end of the (2014) season to be patient and we’ll get a deal done, just be patient and just wait, and time will take care of it,” Houston said during a conference call Wednesday. “That’s what I did. I sat back and waited for them.”
The wait ended but not until the Chiefs walked the tightrope, securing the deal just before the NFL- mandated 4 p.m. ET deadline to reach multi-year contract extensions for players designated with the franchise tag, something Kansas City did with Houston back in March.
“In situations like this, you have to have a degree of patience,” Chiefs general manager John Dorsey claimed. “What’s good is it kicks off a very positive attitude for training camp.”
Fresh off a monstrous 22-sack season, Houston, a University of Georgia product, snared the richest contract in Chiefs history and the biggest ever for a linebacker. The deal also places him as the second-highest-paid defensive player in all of football, a tad behind new Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who received a $59.95 million guaranteed windfall earlier this offseason as a free agent.
“Once you get paid, it’s not like you won the lottery. You’ve still got work to do, prove yourself,” Houston said. “You still can get better each and every day. So that’s my goal.”
At 26, Houston is in the prime of his career and finished just a half-sack short of the NFL single-season sack record set by Hall of Famer Michael Strahan back in 2001.
The former third-round pick in 2011, who fell in the draft due to a failed marijuana test at the NFL scouting combine, is now where he thought he was going to be coming out of Athens.
“It has a little do to with me and my motivation,” Houston said of his slide in the draft, “but I want be known as one of the best to ever play the game, so that’s my motivation toward my whole success. I just want to be great at what I do. I take pride in what I do, so I think that has a lot to do with it.”
Houston was set to make $13.2 million in 2015 under the franchise tag and the longer deal will actually lower that cap number for Kansas City in the short-term because Houston’s $20.5 million signing bonus can be prorated over the length of the deal and his base salary is a paltry $1 million for the upcoming campaign.
“I feel that we have enough flexibility to where we’ll be able to do more deals,” Dorsey said.
As one of the game’s premier pass rushers who has now been identified as such Houston will certainly continue to garner more attention from opposing offensive coordinators, who are sure to scheme for the athletic edge player. Staying in Kansas City was paramount for Houston, though, because there is only so much you can do with Hali, a player with three double-digit sack seasons himself, on the other side.
And Dee Ford, an explosive edge rusher himself at Auburn who the team’s first-round pick in 2014, is waiting in the wings.
“It’s a team effort, so it’s not just me who has to stop them,” Houston said. “They’ve got to stop the whole defense. It’s not just me who is out there on the field by myself.”
Andy Reid’s presence, a mentor with a strong reputation as a players’ coach, was also a major positive for Houston’s camp.
“I like Coach Reid a lot,” Houston admitted. “He’s a great coach. He’s helped motivate me and pushed me to become a better player. Anytime you get around that kind of coach, you love playing for him.”
Reid reciprocated that, perhaps understanding a happy Houston in the fold helps his team immensely as it figures to compete for the AFC West crown now that four-time defending champion Denver seems to have taken a step back thanks to coaching changes and free agent defections.
“Justin has a relentless work ethic on the field and in the classroom, and he provides our team with tremendous leadership,” the coach said. “He is a fearless competitor, and we are glad he is going to be back.”
Dorsey seconded that thought: “Justin is a great football player,” the GM said. “We’ve said all along if you can retain your own great football players, that helps you sustain. He’s young enough where he’s going to have many great years with the Kansas City Chiefs organization.”
— You can reach JF McMullen at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jfmcmullen — Also listen to John weekly on YAHOO! Sports Radio, YSR Indianapolis, ESPN Atlantic City, ESPN Lexington, Omaha’s The Zone and ESPN Southwest Florida.