Dec 30, 2012; San Diego, CA, USA;Oakland Raiders defensive end Lamarr Houston (99) lays on top of San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) after he got a pass off during the second quarter at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

A Great Season By Lamarr Houston Could Get Expensive For The Oakland Raiders

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May 28, 2013; Alameda, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders defensive end Lamarr Houston (99) stretches at organized team activities at the Raiders practice facility. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In just four games this season, Lamarr Houston has established himself as a premier player for the Oakland Raiders, ranking in the top 10 of the league at the defensive end in a 4-3 front. Having recorded two sacks, half of last year’s total, Houston is proving that he could be threat of the edge along with being a menace in the run game.

In college at Texas, Houston saw time on offense at the running back position, but was later converted to a defensive lineman to have a better chance at making the NFL. The Raiders drafted him in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft with the 44th overall pick. Since joining the Raiders, Houston has emerged a potential star and a definite leader in the locker room. Keeping him in silver and black after this season will be a high priority for general manager Reggie McKenzie and the coaching staff.

Many factors will go into the kind of contract that Houston is able to garner. In January, Houston acquired the services of the famed agent Drew Rosenhaus , so McKenzie is in for a fight to get Houston locked up before he hits free agency. McKenzie has so far extended long snapper Jon Condo, Marcel Reece, and Sebastian Janikowski’s contracts long term and is thought to be working on a deal with Houston.

The Raiders are expected to have over $50 million in cap space in 2014 when most of the “dead money” comes off the books from the mistakes of the past. Players on the current squad that will attract interest on the open market next year are Jared Veldheer, Mike Jenkins, Darren McFadden, and Houston.

I’m guessing either Houston or Veldheer could be subjected to the franchise tag depending on who gets signed. The hope of fans will be that both get signed before March 1st 2014. While the Raiders will probably make a play to keep Jenkins based on his performance so far, he won’t generate the interest Houston and Veldheer will generate. The interesting move will be with McFadden. Frankly, I can’t see him coming back to the Raiders unless he agrees to a low-risk contract based on performance.

The only factor determining Houston’s contract next year that he has control over is his performance on the field. No Raider fan could in all honesty say that the former Texas Longhorn hasn’t given it his all in the previous three seasons. Houston is, in fact, one of the most hard working players on the roster, and the Raiders will do well by keeping him in the east bay. Last season he recorded 69 tackles in addition to four sacks in a dominating performance. This season Houston is on pace to notch 8 sacks and 84 tackles. That would be a monster year for a defensive end, playing on a defense that doesn’t have another threat, on the opposite side to eliminate double teams.

If Houston ends up meeting expectations and reaches his projected numbers, he could get in the range of $7-10 million per year. That is a tall order for a Raiders team that has so many needs. At this point, I would like to highlight the importance of drafting well and keeping your draft picks. If the Raiders were to franchise Houston, the number for next season could exceed $11 million. To franchise Veldheer would cost in excess of  $10 million so there’s not much savings in strategically franchising either player.

The Raiders will have to keep their fingers crossed that two of the cornerstones of the franchise carry on with the team beyond the 2013 season and that the building blocks at two vital positions stay in silver and black. While a left tackle is more valuable, keeping both would represent a major coup for Oakland.

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