Zach Cunningham. He was a strong linebacker on the weak side who chased and tackled on an elite seven front. His hands were shiny, clean and beautiful, while those of Benardrick McKinney and DJ Reader were bruised, broken and gnarled. Bill O’Brien did not understand this. He extended Cunningham to anchor the first seven, something he had never shown the propensity to do before. Cunningham was awarded a contract for $ 58 million over four years and $ 23.5 million guaranteed.
Immediately he was thrown into the fire. Cunningham replaced Benardrick McKinney at linebacker Mike when he fell, and with no Reader in front of him, he was forced to defeat those around him, instead of feasting on those who fed him. He led the NFL in tackles, on a terrible running defense, but along the way he missed dozens of tackles and had horrible running fits. The Texans’ running defense continued to crumble and last year it fell apart.
There was some hope Cunningham could return to a former performance at linebacker Will. There he could hunt and tackle, dodge offensive linemen climbing to the second tier, and launch fatal shots at running backs. This does not happen. The same mistakes from last year have happened again this year. Cunningham was benched in the third downs and was unplayable at times. The Texans’ run defense is still at the bottom of the league.
It’s getting worse. Cunningham was one of the Texans’ contract restructurings. Cunningham had a cap of just $ 5.7 million, a figure that climbs to $ 14.7 million. The Texans converted his contract to give him a $ 7.51 million signing bonus; a decision made so that they could sign other linebackers like Kevin Pierre-Louis and Neville Hewitt. It will eat into Houston cap space for next season. The Texans will eat $ 18.1 million in dead money after the move.
He will be a free agent to join a potential team in the playoffs. The Tennessee Titans should be the expected landing place, with his ties to Mike Vrable, the respect the Titans have for him, and the fact that Tennessee enjoys signing former Houston Texans.
This is the end of the road for Cunningham in Houston. He was a player placed in an ideal position to succeed, who was paid a number that did not justify his game, who could not extend his game beyond the narrow box in which he had succeeded.