INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts have turned to free agency to address perhaps the most pressing need on their roster.
The team announced today that it has signed All-Pro free agent edge rusher Justin Houston, a four-time Pro Bowl selection.
Houston, 30, has spent the first eight seasons of his career with the Kansas City Chiefs, who selected the Georgia product in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft.
Utilized as an outside linebacker in the Chiefs’ 3-4 defensive scheme, Houston has established himself as one of the top pure pass rushers in the league, collecting 78.5 sacks and 14 forced fumbles in 102 career games, with 96 starts. Houston also has four sacks in seven postseason contests.
Since 2011, only three players in the NFL — Von Miller, J.J. Watt and Ryan Kerrigan — have more sacks than Houston’s 78.5; his 14 forced fumbles, meanwhile, are tied for the 17th-most in the NFL during that span.
Houston’s dominance off the edge was put on full display during the 2014 season, when he led the league with 22 sacks, tied for the second most in a single season in NFL history. Houston earned First-Team All-Pro honors for his efforts that year; he was also selected to the Pro Bowl four straight seasons from 2012 through 2015, when he averaged more than 12 sacks per season.
Houston battled through a hamstring issue last season to remain a constant presence off the edge for the Kansas City defense. In 12 games played, he logged nine sacks and had a career-best five forced fumbles; he was especially dominant down the stretch, collecting six sacks and two forced fumbles over the team’s final six games of the regular season.
Houston also had two sacks of quarterback Andrew Luck in the Chiefs’ 31-13 victory over the Colts in their Divisional Round matchup at Arrowhead Stadium on Jan. 12.
In all, Houston has logged 381 total tackles (96 for a loss), 118 quarterback hits, four interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), 32 passes defensed, 10 fumble recoveries (one for a touchdown) and caused one safety.
Houston will line up at defensive end for the first time in his career with the Colts, who are entering their second season utilizing a 4-3 base defense under coordinator Matt Eberflus. Last season, Indy logged 38 sacks as a team, tied for the 19th-most in the league, but only about half of those plays came off the edge.
Colts general manager Chris Ballard said earlier this offseason that he considered pass rush to be primary need for the team to address this offseason. Enter Houston, a player with whom Ballard has plenty of familiarity with, having served as the Chiefs’ Director of Player Personnel (2013-14) and Director of Football Operations (2015-16) during four of Houston’s eight seasons with the team.
“I think in this league, when you can have a dominant rusher that the other team really has to, on Monday, come in and game plan for — and really more than one; to me, you want two or three along the front that can rush the pressure — that would be the No. 1 priority in my mind going forward,” Ballard said in January in an appearance on “The Dan Dakich Show” on 1070 The Fan.
“Having a dominant, dominant edge rusher … they’re not easy to find,” Ballard continued. “We’ve got to find him; when we’ll find him, maybe the draft this year? Maybe free agency? We’ll keep throwing darts to try to find the right traits in that rusher.”