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Colts add free agent Justin Houston to defensive line

March 21, 2019
FILE - In this Jan. 12, 2019, file photo, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston (50) celebrates during the second half of an NFL divisional football playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts in Kansas City, Mo. The Indianapolis Colts have signed free agent defensive end Justin Houston. Terms of the deal were not immediately available. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard kept insisting he would be judicious in free agency.

For two-plus years, he was. On Wednesday, a week after the first big wave of signings, Ballard opened his checkbook and made the biggest acquisition of his tenure by adding defensive end Justin Houston.

Ballard didn’t just add a proven pass rusher, he brought in someone he knew well from his days in Kansas City, someone he believes fits the Colts’ young locker room, and a player who can still be effective when taking on extra blockers. Houston considered it the perfect combination for his skills.

“I think they can help me as much as I can help them,” he told local reporters on a conference call. “I love the way they play — their attitude and the effort they play with on the field. I think we can help each other. I just want to be another pass rusher within the scheme that can help cause some more headaches.”

It’s a role he excelled in for eight seasons with Kansas City.

The 6-foot-3, 258-pound four-time Pro Bowler was a key part of the Chiefs’ defense, making 377 tackles in 96 starts. Houston’s 78½ career sacks rank fourth since he entered the league, and he was a first-team All-Pro in 2014 when he won the NFL’s sacks title. His 22 sacks that season are still tied for the second-highest single-season total in league history.

But with Houston turning 30 years old, a high price tag and the Chiefs switching from a 3-4 defensive front to a 4-3, he suddenly became expendable.

So after testing the market, Ballard eventually persuaded Houston to make Indianapolis his new home.

“We’ve been calling and texting each other,” Houston said. “Just knowing him (Ballard) and the kind of guy he is — somebody I can trust and just talk to, knowing I’ve got an honest answer and to know exactly what he’s looking for and feel like I can help play a large role.”

ESPN.com reported the deal is for two years and $24 million.

This was a rare splash move by Ballard, who went into free agency with roughly $100 million in salary cap room. As usual, Ballard focused first on retaining his players. He re-signed kicker Adam Vinatieri, right guard Mark Glowinski and defensive tackle Margus Hunt before last week’s first big wave of signings. The Colts later re-signed two more starters, cornerback Pierre Desir and safety Clayton Geathers.

The only newcomer until Wednesday had been former Carolina receiver Devin Funchess.

Houston was too good to pass up.

Now he joins a young, budding defense that made a dramatic turnaround last season under first-year coach Matt Eberflus and helped the Colts end a three-year playoff drought.

Houston’s experience could prove every bit as valuable as his pass-rushing skills, too.

Outside linebacker Darius Leonard was a first-team All-Pro during his rookie season, and the Colts hope to get even more productivity out of second-year defensive linemen Kemoko Turay and Tyquan Lewis, both second-round picks.

Houston also will help anchor a line that includes Hunt, Jabaal Sheard and Denico Autry, and he can’t wait to get started.

“Of course I would’ve liked to play my whole career in one place, but that’s not neither here nor there,” he said. “That’s over and done with. I am here now and I am excited to be a Colt. I am going to make the best of this opportunity.”

Houston started 12 games at linebacker in 2018, recording 37 tackles and nine sacks while forcing five fumbles and picking off one pass.

He was the Chiefs’ third-round pick in 2011.

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