KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Ahead of the start of NFL free agency next week, the Kansas City Chiefs announced Sunday Justin Houston had been released.
Houston, a four-time Pro Bowl selection and the franchise’s single-season sacks leader (22 in 2014), becomes a free agent.
“Justin has made a lasting impact on this franchise and I can’t thank him enough for his contributions over the years,” Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said. “These decisions are never easy. 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.”
According to Over the Cap, the move frees up $14 million in salary cap space for the Chiefs, who won a third straight AFC West title and reached the AFC Championship Game last season.
Houston, who played collegiately at the University of Georgia, originally joined the Chiefs as a third-round draft pick (No. 70 overall) in the 2011 NFL Draft.
He ranks fourth on the club’s all-time sacks list with 78.5 — trailing only Derrick Thomas (126.5), Tamba Hali (89.5), and Neil Smith (85.5).
“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. “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 recorded 10 or more sacks in three straight seasons from 2012-14, culminating in an All-Pro 2014 campaign when he finished a half-sack shy of the NFL single-season record.
After that season, Houston signed a then-record six-year, $101 million contract. He suffered a significant knee injury later that season and never quite regained his All-Pro form.
Houston missed 20 games during the last four seasons and recorded only 30 sacks in 43 games during that span.
“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,” Chiefs coach Andy 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.”
He remained a good player, but not one worthy of commanding an an average of more than $16 million per season for the final two years of his contract.
Houston can sign with any NFL team now and the Chiefs will carry $7.1 million in “dead money,” which counts against the team’s 2019 salary cap and can’t be used to sign other players.