It didn’t come as much of a surprise today to see that veteran pass rusher Justin Houston had been released by the Carolina Panthers. The 34-year-old is on his last legs, and looking to sign with a contender according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.
Panthers are releasing four-time Pro-Bowl LB Justin Houston, per source. Houston wants to play again this season, but only for a contender. pic.twitter.com/tnGoWxjGAY
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 19, 2023
Houston had decided to sign with the up-and-coming Panthers’ team in hopes of making a playoff push, but that hope has been long gone. Carolina now sits at 2-12 after last Sunday and was eliminated from the playoffs nearly a month ago.
He’s been one of the best pass rushers of this past decade and the stats certainly back it up. After being selected in the third round of the 2011 draft by Kansas City, Houston has racked up 515 tackles, 112 sacks and 19 forced fumbles. All this got him selected to four Pro Bowls (2012-2015) and led the whole league in sacks in 2014, making himself an obvious All-Pro selection.
Ever since he left Kansas City in 2018, he’s been in search of a ring. He’d begin that process in Indianapolis from 2019-2020 and while he was productive, the team failed to win a playoff game. After the Colts he’d become a member of the Ravens, recording 14 sacks in his two years spent in Baltimore.
Houston has only recorded half a sack this year which is a product of his advanced age and terrible coaching. Either way, he could still have enough juice to help a contender. Let’s jump into who could be interested.
1. Detroit Lions
Detroit has become one of the most dominant teams not only in the NFC but in the entire league. At 10-4, they’re sitting pretty as the leaders of the NFC North. Their offense has consistently been elite this season and they’re staying hot. Jared Goff is coming off of a five-touchdown performance that impressed analysts and fans alike.
Detroit’s defense has not been amazing. One of the main reasons for this has been a lack of pass rush opposite former No. 2 overall pick Aidan Hutchinson. John Cominsky is a solid rotational piece with 2.5 sacks. He’s been the starting right defensive end this season. While he’s graded decently well on PFF, there’s room for improvement. The only way to beat teams like the Niners, Cowboys and Eagles will be to get their quarterbacks feeling the wrath of your pass rush.
2. Miami Dolphins
After losing Jaelen Phillips for the season, the Dolphins had to realign some starters on defense. This included moving Andrew Van Ginkel out to the edge spot and signing veteran pass rusher Jason Pierre-Paul for the rest of the season. Van Ginkel has 4.5 sacks on the year but is better off at the middle linebacker spot. Pierre-Paul has only recorded one tackle in the few weeks he’s been on the team.
If Miami is serious about making it all the way this year, picking up Houston would be a great decision. Before losing Phillips, they had the 4th best pass rush in the league. That’ll certainly go down a bit, but it could stabilize if Houston could come in and produce like he did just a year ago.
3. Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys are one of the hottest teams in the NFL as of late. They stunned the Philadelphia Eagles 33-13 and Dak Prescott is continuing to make his MVP case. However, the defense has shown cracks in it. This past week against Buffalo, Dallas was unable to stop the run game or get much pressure on Bills’ quarterback Josh Allen.
As of now, Dorance Armstrong starts at the right defensive end spot. He’s been decently productive with five sacks. Behind him, however, the Cowboys only have Dante Fowler Jr. and Sam Williams. They’re alright depth pieces, but they could easily upgrade if they were to sign Justin Houston. It would allow Dallas to more freely rotate their pass rushers, causing the 2nd ranked pass rush in the league to become even more dominant.