Houston worth more than Watt? I don't think so

By Steve Sell
July 16, 2015

Justin Houston is not a better football player than J.J. Watt.

It’s not even close. End of discussion.

Watt, the Houston Texans’ wrecking ball, is the best defensive player on the planet and the most feared man in the NFL.

I’m guessing if you polled all 32 general managers and asked them which player you would want to build your team around, Watt would near or at the top of every list.

Justin Houston wouldn’t be. He might be in the bottom of the Top 10, if that.

But the Kansas City Chiefs obviously are placing great faith in Houston, who on Wednesday signed a lavish id="mce_marker"01 million, six-year deal that makes him the highest-paid linebacker in the game and the second-highest paid player in the NFL (behind new Miami Dolphin Ndamukong Suh). His salary, ironically, is just a fraction higher than Watt’s, which I’m sure was by design.

Of course by next year, Houston’s salary probably will be surpassed by a dozen or so players, who will tell their agents “you don’t think I’m worth more than Justin Houston? Show me the money!”

Watt might be one of those, just out of principle.

I’m happy the Chiefs were able to re-sign their star defender, but I think they were a bit hornswoggled. Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas, who were prepared to hold out if they didn’t get deals done on Wednesday, interestingly enough both signed for five years at $70 million total. Surely Dallas and Denver weren’t in collusion, were they? 

Of his id="mce_marker"01 million, just over half is guaranteed. It still represents a huge gamble by the Chiefs, who are paying him primarily for his ability to rush the quarterback. Houston’s 22 sacks in 2014 were one-half shy of Michael Strahan’s record of 22 1/2.

I understand rushing the passer is important. According to statistics, he rushed the passer 444 times last year, which was sixth in the league. His pass-rush percentage, which is the percentage of times he rushed the passer per passing snap played — was a pedestrian 34th. He finished with 68 tackles, which was fourth on the team.

Houston was not a first-round pick, so he didn’t earn big money early in his career and now he’s trying to make up for it. The Chiefs basically stole him in the third round in 2011 because he had tested positive for marijuana at the NFL combine, which sent red flags flying. Teams saw that and stayed away from him like the plague, but the Chiefs knew he had first-round talent and taking in him the third wasn’t a huge risk.

Houston has been a model citizen in Kansas City and the Chiefs are paying him a pretty penny to stay that way. He’s also managed to stay in good health, which is what the Chiefs are banking on. 

For a team with so many pressing needs, however, the Chiefs have tied up quite a bundle in Houston. I would rather have seen them use the franchise tag (which means he would have earned a paltry id="mce_marker"3.1 million for one year) and seen them invest money in the offensive line or secondary.

Let’s hope he earns every penny of his contract.