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49ers potential NFL free agent target: Justin Houston

The Chiefs have released Justin Houston, which means he is free and clear to sign. Time to consider him as a free agent option for the 49ers.

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NFL: AFC Wild Card-Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

General manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan enter into Year 3 at the helm of the San Francisco 49ers. With a slew of roster needs and some $65 million in salary cap space, the 49ers could be among the more active teams in free agency. In this series, we’ll be taking a look at impending free agents that could be on the team’s radar at or before the start of the league year on March 13.

On Sunday, just days before the onset of NFL free agency, Kansas City parted ways with linebacker Justin Houston. The Chiefs were rumored to be shopping Houston but were unable to secure a trade partner willing to take on his $15.2 million salary in 2019. The eight-year veteran pass rusher’s emergence onto the open market is good news to the 49ers, who are in dire need of an edge rusher. Since he was released, the 49ers (or anybody else) can sign him as soon as the two sides agree to a contract.

The bulk of the offseason storylines have been dedicated to the 49ers’ pick at No. 2 and the bevy of pass rushers available at the top of the 2019 NFL Draft. Nick Bosa, Quinnen Williams and Josh Allen are all defensive standouts that have cemented themselves to the 49ers in recent mock drafts. Despite the likelihood of landing a key defender in the draft, Lynch would be wise to add another impact pass rusher through free agency. Houston fits the bill.

The 30-year-old veteran played in 12 games last season, totaling 37 tackles, eight tackles for loss, 12 quarterback hits, nine sacks and five forced fumbles. Houston earned an overall grade of 85.7 from Pro Football Focus. His 14.2% pressure rate ranked ninth and his 20.3% pass-rush win rate ranked third among edge defenders. Houston would offer the 49ers a credible threat coming off the edge of their crowded defensive front.

With the 49ers primed to land a young pass rusher in the draft, signing Houston to a one- or two-year deal would pay dividends both in short-term production and long-term development. Given NFL teams’ lack of interest in his current salary, there’s a good chance the 49ers could sign Houston for roughly $10-12 million per year - a bargain for a player of his caliber.