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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