One of the top names still available in free agency is veteran pass rusher Justin Houston. As the Dallas Cowboys look to bolster their roster heading into 2021, should they be interested in Houston as additional depth and insurance at defensive end?
Houston has been one of the NFL's most consistent pass rushers since entering the league 2011. Despite turning 32 in January, Justin continues to put up strong sack totals with eight last season and 9-11 sacks each year from 2017-2019.
Over his 10-year career Houston has been two four Pro Bowls and been named a First Team All-Pro twice. He's spent the last two seasons with the Colts after a long run in Kansas City.
The Cowboys have benefitted greatly from giving older edges opportunities the last two seasons. In 2019 it was Robert Quinn, who came off a down year in Miami and went for 11.5 sacks in Dallas. He parlayed that performance into a lucrative contract last year with Chicago.
Last year, Dallas took a chance on Aldon Smith after a four-year absence from the NFL. While he only had five sacks in 2020, Smith contributed with pressures and other disruptive plays and gave the Cowboys a good return on their risky investment.
Quinn is still a Bear and Smith is now a Seahawk. If the Cowboys want to continue this trend of working with aging pass rushers, Justin Houston seems like a prime candidate.
One big difference between the last two years and 2021, though, is the presence of Randy Gregory. While his availability was mired in uncertainty from 2019-2020, Gregory appears to have his best chance yet to put in a full season's work and maximize his potential.
In addition, Dallas has already signed a free agent in Tarell Basham and just spent a 3rd-round pick on Chauncey Golston last week. They're also bringing back Dorance Armstrong, Bradlee Anae, and Ron'Dell Carter as prospects from previous seasons.
So on the one hand, the need for a guy like Houston is arguably less than in previous seasons. Some might even label him as a “progress stopper” with so many young prospects to work with.
However, as we saw in 2019 with Robert Quinn, a legitimate pass-rushing threat opposite DeMarcus Lawrence is critical to this defense. And as high as hopes are for Gregory in 2021, that leaves Dallas just one injury away from having to dip into a very murky pool of backup talent.
Now that we're in May, any veteran still on the open market has to be getting nervous. Justin Houston is still producing even in his early 30s and there's no sign he's ready to end his career. Could his desire to keep playing and the apparent lack of sufficient interest help drive his price low enough for the Cowboys?
And again, is Dallas interested in another aging vet at DE or are they going to shift to developing younger players under Dan Quinn's leadership in defense?
These are all questions only time can answer. But if the Cowboys are looking for more security at defensive end, Justin Houston seems like the best remaining option in 2021 free agency.