As the Kansas City Chiefs try to capitalize on a breakout season and contend for a Super Bowl next fall, they’ll be doing it without one of their mainstay veterans.
The team announced it is releasing linebacker Justin Houston, who has spent all of his eight seasons in the NFL with Kansas City.
“Over the last eight seasons we’ve had the ability to watch Justin grow into a leader on and off the playing field,” Chiefs owner Clark Hunt said Sunday in a statement. “His passion helped him become one the most successful pass rushers in franchise history. We appreciate his contributions to our team and community and he’ll always be considered a part of the Chiefs family.”
Houston, 30, had been one of the most consistent producers for the Chiefs with 382 tackles, 78.5 sacks, 32 passes defended, 14 forced fumbles and four interceptions.
The Chiefs tied for the NFL lead in sacks forced (52) in 2019, but Houston was set to earn $15.2 million in base salary this coming season, according to spotrac.com.
His best season came in 2014, when Houston finished just one half-sack shy of the all-time, single-season record with 22. But while Houston’s production has been steady – 18.5 sacks over the last two seasons – Kansas City’s defense needs to get younger and quicker.
“I’ve been fortunate to get to know Justin over the last six seasons, and not only is he a talented football player, but he’s a tremendous person,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said in the statement. “He really helped set the tone, and I appreciate the work he put in with us. I wish him the best as he continues his career.”
Last week at the NFL scouting combine, Chiefs general manager Brett Veach told reporters “there’s a lot of dialogue” for a potential trade for Houston. But after Kansas City couldn’t find a partner to accept Houston’s contract, the team opted instead to cut him and make him a free agent.
“Justin has made a lasting impact on this franchise and I can’t thank him enough for his contributions over the years,” Veach said in the statement. “These decisions are never easy. I have a great deal of respect for Justin as a player and person and I wish him and his family the best moving forward.”
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The Chiefs ranked 31st in total defense, allowing 405.5 yards a game, and 24th in scoring defense, allowing 26.3 points. Though Kansas City featured the most explosive offense in football, its defense struggled, including in the AFC Championship Game loss against the Patriots. In that game, the Chiefs gave up 524 total yards, including 176 on the ground.
Shortly after that loss, Kansas City fired defensive coordinator Bob Sutton.