Is Justin Houston a realistic free-agent option for the Carolina Panthers in 2023?

Justin Houston
Justin Houston / Jessica Rapfogel-USA TODAY Sports

Could free-agent edge defender Justin Houston be a realistic option for the Carolina Panthers heading into the 2023 season?

One would have to be living under a rock not to acknowledge that there is a need to strengthen the pass-rushing options opposite Brian Burns in 2023. The Carolina Panthers are giving those around - including third-round pick D.J. Johnson - a chance to prove themselves throughout camp, but the general consensus seems to indicate another move is coming at some stage.

There are decent options still remaining on the market and Carolina has the salary-cap space to ensure nothing is off the table. In an ideal world, someone like Marquis Haynes Sr. or Yetur Gross-Matos can step up and be a consistent force alongside the two-time Pro Bowler, who is going to be a wealthy man before Week 1 with a bumper contract extension being discussed.

Carolina Panthers named as decent landing spot for Justin Houston

Names like Yannick Ngakoue and Jadeveon Clowney have been linked to the Panthers without anything concrete emerging. Another recently touted was Justin Houston, with Maurice Moton of The Bleacher Report stating that the veteran would be a decent fit for Ejiro Evero's 3-4 base defense as a short-term solution.

"Justin Houston lands on this list as the oldest player, though he can still get after the quarterback. In 2022, with the Baltimore Ravens, the 34-year-old played in a reserve role, registering 9.5 sacks and 25 pressures while on the field for 44 percent of the defensive snaps in 14 games. Houston can rush the passer in the even-man fronts with his hand in the dirt or from a two-point stance in an odd-man front. For most of his career, he's played outside linebacker, though the versatile edge-rusher made his presence felt as a defensive end in former Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus' system, logging 19 sacks and 53 pressures between 2019 and 2020."

Maurice Moton, The Bleacher Report

It's been a long time since Houston's peak where he gained 22 sacks and earned an All-Pro selection in 2014. But the former third-round selection proved more than capable of wreaking havoc on a rotational basis with the Baltimore Ravens last season, notching 9.5 sacks from just 44 percent of the team's defensive snaps.

At 34 years old, being utilized as a core depth piece is probably where Houston is most effective these days. This keeps his aging body fresh and allows the coaching staff to maximize productivity depending on the situation.

Looking at the current state of affairs in Carolina, this makes a ton of sense. Houston would provide a solid rotational piece at the very worst if Evero is intent on moving forward with Haynes as the starter, which would also enhance leadership within the locker room to assist with ushering in the Panthers' exciting new era.

Whether Houston would be tempted by this sort of project with his career winding down is debatable. The Panthers aren't expected to be among the Super Bowl hopefuls next season, so the Georgia product might decide to wait around in the hope a contending team comes calling.

Frank Reich and Scott Fitterer have convinced some high-profile veterans with offers from elsewhere that this was the place for them on multiple occasions this spring. Given how Houston sets the edge, can get after the quarterback, and be a vocal influence on and off the field, there are far worse avenues to explore.