Lamarr Houston having his best season in contract year

Oakland Raiders defensive end, Lamarr Houston, celebrates after sacking San Diego Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers - Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Prior to the start of this season, Raiders head coach Dennis Allen said he expected Lamarr Houston to be an elite player this season. Through six games, Houston has lived up to the expectations of his ball coach.

Houston leads all 4-3 defensive ends with 20 solo tackles. That's just third in the NFL among all defensive linemen. This former second round pick has gotten better each of his seasons in the NFL. Last season his hustle and production had him gaining some notice for Pro Bowl consideration and this season he is looking to solidify that case.

Despite the Raiders defensive struggles last season, when they played above their expectations, it was Houston who provided that spark. With the injury to linemate, Richard Seymour, opposing offenses consistently double teamed Houston. He still managed to lead the team in tackles for loss (13), sacks (4.0), and was fourth on the team in solo (dolo) tackles (49) and combined tackles (69).

He is currently on pace for 53 solo tackles and 8.0 sacks -- both career highs. He leads the Raiders resurgent defense as the one of just two returning starters. With Tyvon Branch out at the moment, Houston is the only starter on the field from last season.

Branch is also the highest paid player on this team and the only such player who wasn't released by the team this off-season in a cost cutting move.

Since then, the Raiders have gone about locking up the players they value most who are set to become free agents next off-season. They re-signed Sebastian Janikowski, Jon Condo, and Marcel Reece to contract extensions. That puts Lamarr Houston as a top priority to get re-signed as he is among those set to become a free agent.

Other current Raiders starters who are in contract years are left tackle Jared Veldheer and Darren McFadden. Veldheer has been on partial season injured reserve with a torn triceps muscle and McFadden has been disappointing.

The Raiders will be in a great position to re-sign Houston. Reggie McKenzie has said there have been efforts to get Houston under contract and Houston has said he is also interested in returning. If he keeps up his level of production he has had thus far, he will be squarely in the Pro Bowl discussion, as he should be. His price tag will continue to rise and he could be the first big money free agent the new regime brings back.

The one issue with his Pro Bowl worthiness is the emphasis put on sacks among voters. If he can't get at least in double digits in sacks, his impressive tackle and run stopping numbers will go unnoticed. But there is no way the threat he presents goes unnoticed by opposing offenses and that makes him extremely valuable just the same.

He's proving he is worth the faith his head coach put in him as well as Pro Bowl worthy. A sizable contract will ensue as the young leader and building block of this new Raiders defense.

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