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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Keep an eye on Alex Bowman this weekend. Image via: Wiki Commons.

For the first time since July 1984, NASCAR returns to one of its most popular cities in Nashville, Tennessee for the inaugural Ally 400 at Nashville Super Speedway. This track is a 1 1/3rd mile concrete oval that was dormant for nearly ten years and was only used as a testing facility. So it came as a bit of a surprise last season when it was announced that this track would be getting a date. For a lot of drivers, this will be a brand new racetrack, but we will see practice and qualifying, so that will be a huge help for the newcomers that haven't raced here before. Back when the Xfinity and Trucks ran here, this track featured a lot of first time winners. Back in 2008, future NASCAR champion Brad Keselowski shocked the world by jumping in Dale Jr's car and capturing his first win here. There will be a lot of veterans like Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick who have plenty of experience at this track, but it will be tough to compare. It should be fun with everyone coming into this race with minimal knowledge.

Last week, Kyle Larson continued his hot streak by winning the All-Star Race. Overall, while Larson and his Hendrick teammates probably enjoyed the race, the feedback from crews and fans was less than positive. As I was walking through the garage area and talking to a few crew members, a lot of them were very critical of the 450 horsepower motor and the tall spoiler to try and keep the cars bunched up. When I asked one of the crew-members what he thought about the package he told me, "Oh it's awful. The track is terrible, the package makes it impossible to pass and it's super hot out here." On green flag runs, it was the same as it ever was as the lead car would pretty much take off and the only time there was really any "pack racing" it came after there were restarts. The whole race was well-intentioned and the fans showed up as it was nearly a capacity crowd, but the whole thing just didn't make any sense. From the start time being in the nearly 100 degree heat to the wacky full-field invert at the end of each stage. Let's hope that next season's All-Star Race is a lot more concise.

In Silly Season news this week, Truck Series regulars GMS racing announced that they would be fielding a full-time cup series team. The team is currently owned by Allegiant Airlines CEO Maurice Gallagher and his son, Spencer, who used to drive for them in the Xfinity Series. This move seemed to come from out of nowhere as there was never any indication that this was a move they were exploring anytime soon after they turned down the opportunity to purchase Furniture Row Racing in 2019. This is certainly a great sight for the sport as there will be more new teams on the track and with their close relationship with Chevy, it wouldn't be a surprise if they step in and help this team become competitive. The favorite to drive their car has to be 2020 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Sheldon Creed. He has easily been their best driver in trucks, and it would make the most sense for him to get the promotion.

This week at Nashville, the driver that I have winning is Alex Bowman. Now while this is a brand new racetrack and he has a grand total of zero starts here, this track suits his driving style perfectly. With the inclusion of this track, there are now four tracks with a concrete surface. Nashville, Bristol, Dover and Martinsville. At the three of the tracks they have run at, he has shown a lot of speed, including a victory at Dover this season and a top ten finish at Bristol. This is also a track where crew-chief Greg Ives said Bowman has gravitated towards during testing. In an interview with Sirius XM Ives was quoted as saying "we used to have a lot of fun testing there," so this is clearly a track that they both enjoy going to. Another big factor going into Sunday will be just how fast these Hendrick Motorsports cars are, they have finished 1-2 over the last four points races. He has watched his teammates Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott have immense success, and now this week I think he is due for a third win of the season. Look for the bright purple #48 Chevy to go to victory lane this week at Nashville.

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