Having arrived from Kansas City, new Green Bay Outside Linebackers Coach Mike Smith is more than familiar with two of the best edge rusher names available on the market this offseason. While Smith can provide insight into each player for the Packers’ front office, the prospect of adding Justin Houston or Dee Ford carries differing levels of risk and reward.
Houston will reportedly be a cap casualty after eight quality seasons and four Pro Bowl nods with the Chiefs, who are switching to a 4-3 defense. The former Georgia Bulldog racked up 5.5 sacks or more in all but one season in Kansas City, an injury-shortened 2016 campaign that still saw Houston produce four takedowns. Although Houston is now a 30-year old edge rusher, he has not entirely slowed down with at least nine sacks in each of the past two seasons. He would bring a veteran presence with 3-4 experience to Green Bay as the Packers build the position for the future.
However, injuries have affected Houston over the past four seasons and the Packers have had enough lingering concerns the past few seasons between Nick Perry and Clay Matthews. There will be plenty of possible suitors lining up to speak with Houston in the event he is released, and concerns about Houston’s age and health will loom large in the Packers’ decision to add him to the roster. A possible decline over the next three or four years could make finding a reasonable contract figure difficult as Houston is still very much a sack artist. Still, adding an instant starter without sacrificing a draft pick could be an appealing route for the Packers to take.
While Houston likely has already reached his ceiling, his Chiefs counterpart Ford may be just scratching that surface. At age 27, Ford has not had the consistent production of Houston, but he is coming off of two double-digit sack seasons in the past three years. After a back injury prematurely landed Ford on Injured Reserve in 2017, the edge rusher bounced back with his finest season as a pro in 2018, reaching the quarterback 13 times in a full 16-game season.
With the Chiefs’ move to a 4-3 system, Ford could be a trade candidate after getting the franchise tag on Tuesday. If the Packers can land a premium pass rusher for just a second-round pick as one report suggested, it might make plenty of sense for Green Bay to pounce on the opportunity. Although the draft market is strong this spring for promising edge rushers, a proven player like Ford could be a better proposition than gambling on a late-first or early second round selection, especially with Ford’s old coach now in the saddle to help ensure a good fit. Still, a contract extension for a pass rusher like Ford would mean a high annual salary with significant guaranteed money, much more than Houston will command as a free agent.
In the end, picking between Ford and Houston for the Packers comes down to two main items: the transaction price (draft picks and contract figures) and expected productivity over the length of the contract. There is no clear answer for the right fit for Green Bay, but each would immediately bolster the Packers’ defensive front despite their far different acquisition outlooks.
Which edge rusher would you prefer to see the Packers acquire?
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