Dolphins free agency: Chris Houston may come with reasonable cover charge

With Sean Smith possibly on his way out, unheralded Chris Houston is a cornerback option for the Dolphins who could also be affordable.

03/07/2013 12:01 AM

03/07/2013 1:23 AM

Adam “Pacman” Jones has more red flags than the United Nations. Brent Grimes tore his Achilles’ tendon just six months ago.

And Aqib Talib was such a headache in Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers essentially gave him to New England.

So whom exactly does that leave when the best free-agent option at cornerback might be Sean Smith – the guy the Dolphins are about to let walk out the door?

Try Chris Houston, the best cover corner few outside of NFC North have heard of.

Houston, a six-year veteran who has split his career between Atlanta and Detroit, led the league in interception-return yardage in 2011. And he followed that with perhaps an even better 2012 – even if the statistics weren’t as impressive.

And the best news for the Dolphins, whose top two corners currently on roster are a rehabbing Richard Marshall and a relatively unknown Dimitri Patterson?

Signing Houston probably wouldn’t break the bank. That’s good news for a franchise that doesn’t have a long history of throwing big money at free agent corners.

Last spring, they agreed to pay Marshall $16 million over three years, which is more or less middle-class for that position. Houston will likely command more than that, but he won’t get Nnamdi Asomugha money. (Asomugha, it should be noted, is expected to be cut by the Eagles after he failed to live up to his massive five-year, $60 million contract signed in 2011.)

STEADILY PRODUCTIVE

Meanwhile, Houston’s play has exceeded his compensation; Pro Football Focus listed him as the Lions’ fifth-best value in 2012. The scouting website calls Houston the second-best free agent corner, behind only Grimes.

After missing the first two games of the season with a sprained ankle, he appeared in the final 14, tallying two interceptions and 56 tackles. But his biggest impact didn’t show up on the stat sheet. He was by far the best player in an otherwise porous Lions secondary, and at times would shadow the opposing team’s best receiver.

“Corners are tough to find in the NFL,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. “You realize how much you miss a guy when he’s not out on the field.

“He’s played some quality football for us and has worked on some things early in his career that had been weaknesses,” Schwartz added. “He’s a vet, he’s a pro, he’s a guy that’s been productive for us.”

HOUSTON’S ODYSSEY

So who, exactly, is Chris Houston?

Born on Oct. 18, 1984 in Austin, Texas, the 5-11, 178-pounder played his college ball at Arkansas.

After forgoing his senior season, Houston was selected by the Falcons in the second round of the 2007 draft. He started 37 games over the next three years before being traded to the Lions for a sixth- and a seventh-round draft pick.

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