Industry experts say Kansas City linebacker Justin Houston’s $101 million deal likely won’t impact Luke Kuechly’s next contract, but they still expect the Carolina Panthers’ Pro Bowler to set the standard for middle linebackers.
Houston’s six-year deal – worth an average of $16.8 million and signed hours before a Wednesday deadline – is the richest for a linebacker in NFL history.
Houston is an outside linebacker and one of the game’s top pass-rushers, a position the NFL values more highly than middle linebackers. The Chiefs and Houston faced a Wednesday afternoon deadline to reach a multiyear agreement after Kansas City designated him as its franchise player in March.
Kuechly is widely considered the league’s best inside linebacker. He led the NFL in tackles in two of his first three seasons, has played in two Pro Bowls and was named the Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2012 and Defensive Player of the Year in 2013.
$16.8M Average yearly value of Justin Houston’s six-year deal with the Kansas City Chiefs, signed Wednesday.
$11.1M What Luke Kuechly would be paid in 2016 under the fifth-year option the Panthers have exercised.
$12M The salary, per year, where negotiations between Kuechly and the Panthers figure to start.
Kuechly, the No. 9 overall pick in 2012, is entering the fourth year of his rookie deal that will pay him $2.1 million this year.
The Panthers have exercised their fifth-year option on Kuechly, but would like to get a long-term deal done with him this year, according to a league source.
In an interview with the Observer in June, Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman declined to discuss the timeline on a new contract for Kuechly.
The Panthers have plenty of salary cap room to sign Kuechly before the season starts. After finalizing extensions with quarterback Cam Newton and outside linebacker Thomas Davis in June, the Panthers are $14.5 million below the $143 million cap, according to the NFL Player Association’s salary cap report.
“I’d do it now if I’m them,” said Joel Corry, a former NFL agent who writes about contracts for cbssports.com. “Because we saw with Justin Houston the longer you wait for a great player, the more it’s going to cost you. So I’d get it done.”
Because we saw with Justin Houston the longer you wait for a great player, the more it’s going to cost you. So I’d get it done.
NFL salary cap expert Joel Corry of cbssports.com
Corry said the market for inside linebackers has been stagnant since Patrick Willis and Jon Beason signed deals averaging $10 million a year in 2010 and 2011, respectively.
Willis’ deal included more guaranteed money ($29 million compared with $25 million) than the contract the Panthers gave Beason, who was traded to the Giants in 2013 after Kuechly’s emergence.
The top-paid inside linebacker is the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Lawrence Timmons, whose deal averages $9.6 million a year.
“The problem is the market’s been stagnant,” Corry said Thursday in a phone interview. “There’s no one to advance the ball. So Kuechly’s the one’s who’s going to be setting new standards.”
Kuechly would make a guaranteed $11.1 million in 2016 under the option, so the negotiations figure to start in the range of $12 million to $12.5 million a year.
Kuechly’s agent is Tom Condon, a former NFL lineman who also represents Panthers center Ryan Kalil and rookie wideout Devin Funchess. Attempts to reach Condon on Thursday were unsuccessful.
Corry said Condon could try to use Green Bay inside linebacker Clay Matthews as a comparison in the Kuechly contract talks.
Matthews makes an average of $13.2 million a year, although he was a pass-rushing outside linebacker when he signed the five-year, $66 million contract (with $20.5 guaranteed) in 2013.
“I can’t really see that being overly persuasive to the Panthers,” Corry said of Kuechly’s side potentially using Matthews as a benchmark. “But it’s worth a shot initially.”