NEW DEAL FOR CUNNINGHAM

Texans and ILB Zach Cunningham agree to contract extension

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty images

A little over a week ago, Zach Cunningham wore a blue Nike cut-off shirt that read, "H-TOWN," and featured a muscular Toro flexing behind Houston's skyline to his media availability. During his post-practice interview, the 25-year-old inside linebacker stated that he was not worried about his pending contract extension when asked by a local reporter.

As the head coach and general manager, the question emerged following Bill O'Brien's comment, that he wants to keep Cunningham a member of the Houston Texans for a long time. Ten days later, both O'Brien and Cunningham no longer have to wait to meet their aspiration.

Sunday afternoon, Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero of NFL Network reported that the Texans and Cunningham have agreed to a four-year extension worth $58 million, $23.5 million fully guaranteed. With $14.5 million per year, Cunningham's new deal places him as the tenth highest paid linebacker in the league — overtaking Jaguars' Myles Jack at $14.2 million per year.

"We want Zach on our team. We want Zach to be a Texan for a long time, no doubt about it," O'Brien said. "He's just a really good player. He's very instinctive. He's got good speed. He can do a lot of different things within our scheme. Really good guy. Same guy every day. We think that it would be great if he was with us for a long time."

After the Texans selected the Vanderbilt prodigy in the second round (No. 57 overall) in 2017, Cunningham has made significant strives over the past three seasons. While recording a career-high 2.0 sacks, Cunningham came close to receiving his first Pro-Bowl selection after leading the AFC in total tackles (142) during the 2019 season. But that was under Houston's old Defensive Coordinator, Romeo Crennel.

As he enters his fourth season, Cunningham's game has the opportunity to take another huge step playing under current D.C. Anthony Weaver. The new defensive schemes set in place by Weaver will capitalize on Cunningham's ability to stop the run — in which he led all linebackers with a 14.2 run-stop percentage in 2019. Cunningham says one of his top goals this season is to make "more plays" in pass coverage.

"Zach Cunningham is a guy who day in and day out just gets the job done and makes plays that always leave you shaking your head a little bit. You're like, 'how did he make that play?'" — Weaver said.

With one of their top defensive talents taken care of, it is time for the Texans to turn their contract talks to franchise quarterback, Deshaun Watson. It may not be as big of a deal as Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes, but rest assured the Texans and Watson will break the bank.

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Paying a kicker 17 million dollars? Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Head coach/general manager Bill O'Brien engineered questionable moves during the off-season that already have come back to bite the Texans in the butt. Fans have yet to see the Texans on the right track, at least on television for now. Here are the top three, or bottom three, contracts that have Houston raising eyebrows, shrugging shoulders, and shaking heads.

Randall Cobb: 3 years, $27 million

The 30-year-old wide receiver has been quiet so far this 0-2 season with seven catches for 82 yards. New offensive coordinator Tim Kelly is favoring "12 and 21" schemes which render Cobb the third option behind Will Fuller and Brandin Cooks. This could change now with Fuller nursing a hamstring injury sustained against the Ravens. To be fair, with no preseason games or extended practice, Cobb has not had time to build chemistry with quarterback Deshaun Watson. So let's mark him, "bad contract," but jury still deliberating.

David Johnson: 3 years, $39 million

Johnson has carried the ball 22 times for 111 yards. Normally, these would be acceptable, even commendable stats. However, Johnson carries the burden of being involved in the trade that sent DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona. BTW, Hopkins in tearing it up in Arizona with 22 receptions for 219 yards. Also, more evidence condemning Johnson's contract, the Texans could have made a run at Leonard Fournette (17 carries for 108 yards) or Adrian Peterson (21 carries for 134 yards), both chewing up more turf for less money.

Whitney Mercilus: 4 years, $54 million

Here's another 30-year-old who was being paid big and producing little. He was MIA against the Ravens with no tackles and no sacks, despite being on the field for 70 percent of the Ravens snaps. Mercilus was able to squeeze the Texans for huge money last year when he picked up the workload of injured J.J. Watt.


Honorable Mention

Ka'imi Fairbairn: 4 years, $17,650,000

Fairbairn is the third highest-paid kicker in the NFL. Fairbairn had a rough start against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 1, missing an extra point and a deep 51-yard field goal attempt. Meanwhile, up in Dallas, Greg 'The Leg' Zuerlein is being paid half of what Fairbairn makes, but knocking them down from the logo, including a last-second, game-winning field goal to beat the Falcons. Former Texans kicker Randy Bullock is enjoying greater success in Cincinnati for considerably fewer dollars, too. Fun fact: Fairbairn is paid more than most Texans secondary defenders.


But really, the worst, and most regrettable Texans contract of all might be Bill O'Brien's deal- 4 years, $20 million.

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