A team can never have too much pass-rush help. Free agency provides teams with the ability to add quality depth in that department. When we look for the best Justin Houston free agency fits, he certainly falls into that category, as he’s listed amongst PFN’s Top 100 NFL Free Agents. Once a premier pass rusher, those days are long gone. Now, Houston is best suited for the “pass-rush specialist” role.
Houston is not the rah rah locker-room-mentor type, but he will come in and provide a veteran presence who will give you good reps in a limited role. There are several teams that could use that. Below are the ones I think provide Houston with the best fits.
Justin Houston’s Free Agency Best Fits
A reminder as we venture through Houston’s free agency process, the teams listed below are the best fits for his skill set, in my opinion. This is not necessarily who I believe will end up signing him. Many factors come into how a player ultimately gets signed. Salary cap, cash flow, team needs, and, yes, the actual market, will all factor in what team actually pulls the trigger.
Every year we see a free agency signing and go, “why would they do that?” The goal with this list is to go through the teams who, if they did sign him, we could avoid doing that.
Baltimore Ravens Should Prize Familiarity
It feels cheap putting Baltimore on Houston’s best fits list because this is where he’s spent the last two years, but the reality is, the Ravens know he can be productive with them. Houston is coming off his best season since 2019 and finished just half a sack short of double digits. He had more sacks last year than every available free agent.
According to the Baltimore Ravens website, Houston said on top of everything else, this is where he would like to be.
“The way I feel right now – I’ll be back,” Houston said. “We’ll see if the chips work out, and I’ll be here. That’s out of my control. We’ll see what they do. I’d like to be back here.”
A return is also not out of the question from the Ravens’ side, with GM Eric DeCosta telling the team website how he feels about the veteran pass rusher.
“I love Justin,” DeCosta said. “He’s a proven vet. He’s a guy that when you talk about the best pass rushers of the last couple decades, you put Justin on that list. He had a great season for us; came up big in some games; he’s a great leader; a hard worker.”
Baltimore should certainly look to get younger at the position. But bringing in a specialist coming off a near double-digit sack season? That’s too rich an opportunity to pass up.
You also cannot negate the value of familiarity. The Ravens know Houston is a team leader and a good fit in the locker room. While he isn’t the mentor-young-players type, Houston is someone who leads by example on how to be the consummate professional.
Double-digit sack guys with leadership qualities whom you already know. Those don’t grow on trees. I think the Ravens would be the best fit for Houston to close out his career. They believe they are chasing a Super Bowl and aren’t far away from it. He can help keep them on track.
Cincinnati Bengals Should Poach From Their Rival
Houston had more sacks than every single Cincinnati Bengals player last season. This is not to devalue Trey Hendrickson or Sam Hubbard. Both are phenomenal edge players, but the Bengals need pass-rush help as they look to get back to the Super Bowl.
Both Hendrickson and Hubbard had more pressures than Houston last year. There is something to be said about the art of the sack, however, and few have mastered that art better than Houston. Houston is a closer. In fact, his 38% close rate (rate of pressures that end in sacks) is higher than even NFL sack leader Nick Bosa.
Cincinnati needs to find a specialist who can aid the pass rushing of their top two guys. Houston fits the bill. There’s also familiarity there, given his last two seasons in Baltimore. They’ve seen plenty of Houston, including the last two games Houston played in 2022. He notched a mark in the sack column in each of them.
Jacksonville Jaguars Need the Help
Recording sacks were a struggle for Doug Pederson and the Jacksonville Jaguars last year. Let’s be clear, though, the Jaguars are a team on the rise. They made the postseason last year and won a playoff game — in dramatic fashion.
Pederson has truly turned the culture of Jacksonville’s franchise around, and they believe that they can win any game they walk into. He has all but undone the true damage that Urban Meyer inflicted on this franchise and their fanbase in the incredibly short time he was able to.
Winning games proves difficult, however, when you can’t get the quarterback on the ground before he throws the football. Of the bottom 16 teams in sacks, only three made it to the playoffs in 2022. One of them was the Jaguars.
Jacksonville’s defense was the seventh-worst team in sacks in the NFL.
Houston would be joining a young, up-and-coming roster with a franchise quarterback. They are a playoff team looking to continue building. He would provide a veteran presence and immediately boost their sack numbers. For him, they provide a contending team for him to continue chasing a ring, and a warm weather climate to ease the burden on his aging body.