KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Chiefs made a long-expected move official on Sunday, releasing veteran linebacker Justin Houston in a salary-cap decision that frees up $14 million in cap space with free agency beginning on Wednesday.
“Over the last eight seasons we’ve had the ability to watch Justin grow into a leader on and off the playing field,” Chiefs chairman and CEO Clark Hunt said in a statement issued by the club. “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 was slated to count $21.1 million against the salary cap in 2019 under a restructured contract originally signed in 2015. That included a $15.25 million base salary, which the Chiefs now avoid paying. A total of $7.1 million in dead cap money remains on Houston's contract including $4.1 million in original bonus money and $3 million from a restructured deal signed in 2016.
The latest salary cap report from the NFLPA showed the Chiefs with just more than $9.1 million in available cap space. That includes the $15.44 million franchise tender for linebacker Dee Ford. Releasing Houston brings the Chiefs to just more than $23.1 million in cap space with free agency kicking off on Wednesday.
Houston ends his career in Kansas City with 78.5 sacks, ranking fourth in franchise history behind Derrick Thomas (126.5), Tamba Hali (89.5) and Neil Smith (85.5). His 22 sacks during the 2014 season rank tied for second-most in a season since the NFL began tracking sacks in 1982.
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid sung Houston's praises in a statement released by the club on Sunday.
“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,” Reid said. “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.”
General manager Brett Veach attempted to find a trade partner for Houston, but to no avail. Teams balked at picking up Houston's salary for 2019 at a time when other general managers felt the Chiefs had to part ways with Houston for cap purposes. Houston, who turned 30 years old in January, missed 16 games over the 2015-16 seasons with a knee injury and hasn't played a full 16 game season since 2014. He picked up nine sacks with 12 quarterback hits and 37 total tackles in 12 games during the 2018 season.
Veach thanked Houston for his contributions to the club in a statement.
“These decisions are never easy,” Veach said. “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.”