On-time camp appearance for LB Justin Houston doesn't mean all is well with Pro Bowler and Chiefs

Rand Getlin
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JANUARY 04: Outside linebacker Justin Houston #50 of the Kansas City Chiefs celebrates against the Indianapolis Colts during a Wild Card Playoff game at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 4, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Will two-time Pro Bowl linebacker Justin Houston be in attendance when the Kansas City Chiefs are scheduled to report to training camp on July 23? The short answer: he almost assuredly will be.

But after skipping all team activities during the offseason – including OTAs and mini-camp – and accruing nearly $70,000 in fines along the way, it would be wise to view Houston's camp appearance as the next logical step toward becoming a free agent at season's end, not an affirmation of his commitment to the team.

Houston skipped those team activities with a purpose. Though he would incur a $30,000 fine for each day of training camp he missed, that's unlikely to be the primary motivating factor in him reporting to camp. Despite heading into the season as the second-lowest paid projected defensive starter on the team at a base salary of $1.4 million, he has already proven his willingness to pay significant fines in order to make clear how dissatisfied he is with his contract situation.

Justin Houston could become one of the biggest free agents in 2015. (USA TODAY Sports)

The rubber really meets the road here: headed into the last year of his rookie deal, Houston has to comply with the terms in Article 8 of the NFL collective bargaining agreement – which requires players to report to their team 30 days before the first regular-season game in order to earn an accrued season toward free agency – if he wants the ability to hit the open market in 2015.

While the Chiefs could slap a franchise tag on Houston in 2015, they have yet to reach a contract extension with Alex Smith, who is reportedly asking for a deal similar to Jay Cutler's (seven years and $126.7 million). It appears that the Chiefs are unwilling to pay Smith that kind of money and the team only has one tag. They have to come to terms on a new contract with either Houston or Smith if they intend to keep both players beyond next season.

The Chiefs are likely to make Houston an offer once he reports to camp, but they've been gambling with one of their best players by allowing his dissatisfaction to fester this long. Given his production over the past two years, which included 93 total tackles and 21 sacks (11 sacks in 11 games last year), Houston has earned whatever increase comes his way. Whether that raise comes in Kansas City this year, or somewhere else next season, remains to be seen.