When Reggie Mckenzie is prioritizing who to re-sign this spring, he needs to put a giant priority on defensive end Lamarr Houston. The fourth year player out of Texas has started 60 out of 64 games in his career; notching 16.5 sacks, forcing four fumbles, and recovering six fumbles as well.
While he doesn’t put up gaudy numbers like other edge defenders, Houston is not your average defensive end. Houston is built like a 3-technique defensive tackle at 6-foot-4, 300 pounds. His tenacity combined with his size has made him the best defensive lineman in Oakland for the past few seasons.
Most football fans would look at the 300-plus pound end and wonder how he can lead his team in sacks as he did in 2013. Watching game film, you can see Houston possesses unnatural athleticism for his size.
Here, on the right side of the photo, you can see him dip under Broncos LT, Chris Clark.
Not many big men can do that.
While his sack numbers don’t suggest he’s a standout pass rusher, the amount of pressure he applies on a per-play basis displays his skills. Combined with his freakish athleticism and speed is a strong power you can see here.
Not only does he use power to knock back tackles, but also to hold ground in the run game. Houston actually led all 4-3 defensive ends in run stopping percentage in Pro Football Focus’s rankings.
Many have thought Houston would best be served by moving him to 3-technique defensive tackle, and while defensive coordinator Jason Tarver could do that if he is unable to resign Vance Walker or Pat Sims, it is unlikely. In many games this past season, Tarver would line Houston up in a two-point stance outside the offensive tackle, where his athleticism and speed could be put to great use.
At other times, Tarver would line Houston up at 5-technique directly over the offensive tackle. Here he would usually put linebackers Kevin Burnett or Sio Moore beside him. Whenever Houston lined up inside or stunted to the inside from the end, he was far too quick for any guard to handle.
In fact, in passing situations, the most effective pass rush came when Houston was lined up at one end spot and rookie pass-rushing linebacker Moore opposite him. If Oakland wants to keep some pass rushing production, this is the need re-signing they must prioritize.
Given their historic unproductiveness in sacks, Oakland may well use their high draft pick to get All-Galaxy prospect, Jadaveon Clowney. They could also use their $70 million in cap space and make a run on Greg Hardy. Either of them would be preferred to replace lackluster, bargain basement defensive end opposite Houston, Jason Hunter.
Ideally, if Houston can be re-signed and a big name drafted or signed, Oakland’s 2014 defensive line would be Houston at one defensive end spot and Clowney/Hardy/someone not Jason Hunter at the other. In nickel sub-packages, Houston shifts in a bit to the 4-tech (inside shoulder of the tackle) while pass-rushing linebacker Moore moves outside of him.
As for money, a four-year, $26 million contract with about $8 million guaranteed seems appropriate. It is enough to put him above the average for defensive ends in the league, but enough to help Oakland keep cap room to help other areas of the team.
Although they have the resources to draft Clowney or sign Hardy, keeping Houston in town on a reasonable deal is the quickest way for the Oakland to improve their defense and keep a consistent presence in the locker room.