Why the Lions should sign pass rusher Justin Houston

Free agent Justin Houston to the Detroit Lions?

By: Ladarius Brown

If you are a football fan (or a Lions fan for that matter), the Lions organization has not been great for some time. Over the last two years, it has been the defensive side of the ball that has taken a major hit. In 2018, this Lions team was 10th in the league in total defense with players like DE’s Romeo Okwara, Da’Shawn Hand, and 3x Pro Bowler & All-Pro CB Darius Slay. However, in 2019 & 2020, the Lions finished 31st and 32nd respectively. As they are rebuilding their secondary, most notably with drafting Ohio State CB Jeff Okudah in the 1st round in 2020, the defensive line needs some depth.  

One option that is out there is 4x Pro Bowler and All-Pro DE Justin Houston. Houston played for the Colts in 2020 in which he had eight sacks and 19 total sacks in his two seasons in Indy. In 2014, he led the league with 22 sacks as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs, who finished 7th in total defense that year. Another reason that Houston is an ideal fit for the Lions is the flexibility he can provide. 

The Lions’ new defensive coordinator, former 15-year NFL veteran Aaron Glenn, will bring in a 3-4 defensive scheme. Here, DEs who are typically starting with their fingers in the field will have their stance be upward as an LB. Houston played LOLB in his 1st eight years in the league with the Chiefs and the transition will be seamless. Also, two of the current DE’s on the roster, the aforementioned Okwara, and Trey Flowers, will be making the move to outside LB.  

What also bodes well for Houston is that Lions general manager Brad Holmes drafted only one true DE in the 2021 Draft: Derrick Barnes in the 4th round out of Purdue. Glenn alluded to is, in nickel packages, he visualizes using a five-down front at times, with LB Jamie Collins as one edge rusher. Veteran Michael Brockers and rookie second-round pick Levi Onwuzurike are defensive ends who will play as inside rushers in sub-packages in the Lions’ new defense. This Glenn-led will have various looks, taking advantage of players who have played as DEs and LBs. Houston fits the bill in this respect and more.  

The biggest question is how much playing time Houston would see on the field. In the last two seasons for the Colts, he averaged 641 defensive snaps, or 62% of the Colts snaps on that side of the ball. Given the players currently on the roster, there is an opportunity for the 10-year vet to get a starting job. Because of his familiarity with playing in a 3-4 scheme, he has an edge on the younger players on the roster. 

Given that the Lions’ front seven are have experienced players such as Collins (8 years), Brockers (9 years), Houston would be great as added depth with the chance to compete. Regarding his price tag, he made $12 million a year in Indy when he signed in 2019. Now, at 32 years old, another question is he worth $12 million a year, even for one year. If he is willing to take a pay cut (1 year, $5-6 million), he would be well worth the risk in kickstarting this Lions defense.  

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