Was edge rusher Justin Houston's switch to the Carolina Panthers always a foregone conclusion once the call came from head coach Frank Reich?
Everywhere you look this offseason Carolina Panthers fans have been clamoring for those in power to find another productive pass-rusher to place alongside Brian Burns. The pressure was almost non-existent opposite the two-time Pro Bowler last season and the lack of urgency in which this was addressed over early free agency and the 2023 NFL Draft became an obvious source of frustration.
Only third-rounder D.J. Johnson - who's still seen as a development project rather than an immediate contributor - came into the fold before training camp. But with only a few sessions remaining at Wofford College in Spartanburg, the Panthers made their play.
Justin Houston was the guy chosen to bolster Carolina's pass rush, signing a one-year deal with $6 million guaranteed. This is only a short-term solution given his age, but the All-Pro is a proven performer who gained 9.5 sacks at 33 years old for the Baltimore Ravens in 2022.
Justin Houston was a primary Carolina Panthers' target
Houston will be part of the rotation and provide exceptional leadership within the locker room. His experience will also be invaluable to those younger edge presences looking to carve their own path.
When discussing what Houston can offer, head coach Frank Rech was gushing based on his comments via the team's website. The pair are no strangers to each other from their time working together on the Indianapolis Colts, which can hopefully provide the familiarity needed for a smooth transition.
"Really excited to have Justin. That group has been really good in camp, feel like the development of that group has been outstanding. And now, to get to add Justin to the group is a big deal. He's a physical specimen. He's an incredibly smart football player. He's a leader; he's the ultimate competitor. Obviously, his production speaks for itself. And so he's been productive in multiple ways. So one of the things that I know about Justin is he's not only a great player, but he's a great teammate and a great mentor. He loves sharing his experience and helping the younger guys. So that's a big deal because we got some young guys who were really excited about. And so bringing Justin into the mix, to have him do what he's going to do on the field, but yet help bring those young guys around. That's important to us."- Frank Reich via Panthers.com
Although there was a level of impatience among the fanbase to get someone in that can immediately help their cause, it seems as if Houston was always a primary target for the Panthers. So in a sense, it was a lot of panic for absolutely nothing.
The player revealed during his media availability that initial contact from the franchise came a couple of months ago. All it took was a call from Reich to convince the former Georgia star that this was his next destination in 2023.
"That was simple when Coach Frank made the phone call. I knew right then as soon as the call, I hung up the phone and I told my wife, 'We're going to Carolina.' So it was an easy decision. He's a stand-up guy; what you see is what you get. And he's, he's going to be straightforward, a guy that you know you can count on. I think that, like I said, the biggest thing is trust. I want somebody I can trust."- Justin Houston via Panthers.com
These recent revelations indicate Houston joining the Panthers was a foregone conclusion. However, the veteran was probably dragging things out as long as he could to avoid the rigors of training camp.
Considering Houston's experience and his knowledge of how best to prepare for a grueling NFL campaign, that's absolutely fine. So long as the pass-rusher still has something left to give when the real action being.
And what do you know, everything worked out alright in the end.