Is Justin Houston the Bengals free-agent target we aren’t talking about enough?

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Chris Roling
·2 min read
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It’s a matter of “when” not “if” when it comes to the Cincinnati Bengals addressing the lacking pass-rush this offseason.

And while much of the focus right now centers on whether the team will re-sign Carl Lawson, the attention should probably also be on free agency — where a name like Justin Houston awaits.

Houston is far from the first name to come to mind when it comes to edge defenders this offseason. But he’s here now courtesy of Pro Football Focus, which predicts the Bengals will sign him to a two-year deal at $9 million AAV:

“Houston still flashes his ability, as he can get offensive tackles off-balanced with his length and good technique, but the days of accumulating 50-plus pressures in a season appear to be in the past. Even in the run game, Houston took a step back in 2020. On the other hand, Houston is just one year removed from an 87.1 overall grade while playing just over 40 plays per game, and he may have something to offer in a rotational role.”

Realistically…it’s not the worst idea. Houston might be 32 and fading, but he’d still be an upgrade on all non-Lawson players on the Cincinnati roster. If the team doesn’t want to spend more than that in free agency (no matter what happens with Lawson) and doesn’t want to devote a first or second-round pick to the problem, Houston might make for a shrewd fall-back move.

Yes, Houston is slowing down and only has 25 or more pressures in each of his last three seasons. But he hasn’t played on more than 65 percent of the snaps over that span and in 2019 posted that 87.1 grade with 11 sacks. He’s tallied eight or more sacks in each of his last four seasons.

Houston wouldn’t be a huge splash like some fans might expect — but the team probably needs to save those for the offensive line. In fact, he might just be the ideal type of move to make while throwing all the bigger resources into making sure Joe Burrow doesn’t get hurt again.

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