Justin Houston news doesn't bring much clarity to his situation

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The moment the Kansas City Chiefs and Justin Houston anticipated came on Monday when the team placed the franchise tag on its star linebacker.

The news is nothing the sides haven’t expected for months. They have been building to this as on-again, off-again negotiations for a long-term contract brought little in the way of progress.

In making him their franchise player, the Chiefs are obligated to offer Houston a one-year contract worth about $13 million. But he’s not obligated to sign it now, anytime soon or ever.

The franchise tag effectively keeps Houston off the free-agent market. Assuming he has been designated as a non-exclusive franchise player, Houston could negotiate a long-term contract with another club and sign an offer sheet.

The Chiefs would then have the right to match the contract and retain Houston’s services. They would receive two first-round draft picks from the other team if they decline to match.

So while this move goes a long way toward ensuring Houston plays in 2015 for no other team besides the Chiefs, it doesn’t guarantee he will play for the Chiefs. His leverage toward getting a long-term contract, and more guaranteed money than the one-year, $13 million contract would provide, is not to sign the Chiefs’ offer and stay away from the offseason conditioning program and practice sessions that begin in the spring.

It’s worth noting that his absence from last year’s conditioning and practice sessions (he was protesting a lack of progress toward a long-term contract) didn’t hold him back once the season started. He set a Chiefs record and fell a half-sack short of the NFL record with 22 sacks.

In that sense, the Chiefs placing the franchise tag on Houston and Houston possibly deciding not to sign it is a part of the business. These things tend to sort themselves out. The Chiefs and Houston have until July 15 to agree on a long-term contract. If they don’t have a deal in place by then, they can’t agree on one until after the Chiefs have finished their 2015 regular season.

But these things don’t always sort themselves out. In this case, the lack of progress toward a long-term contract and Houston’s willingness to hold out of last spring’s activities make you wonder whether this one will.

Things haven’t always worked themselves out for the Chiefs and their franchise players over the years. Jared Allen was so mad at being named the franchise player in 2008, they had little choice but to trade him to the Minnesota Vikings.

Branden Albert, the Chiefs’ most recent franchise player in 2013, played for Kansas City that season. But he departed shortly afterward for the Miami Dolphins and the long-term contract the Chiefs were never willing to give him.

Those were different situations and their lessons might not apply to Houston. His situation still bears watching.