Entering the 2017 off-season, the Houston Texans have to poke and prod their current roster to make sure that they are in the best spot for the upcoming season. There will be plenty of focus on the future of A.J. Bouye and the uncertainty at the quarterback position, but there will be some underlying issues with key veterans which require attention as well.
Longtime linebacker Brian Cushing someone whose name will come to the forefront as an opportunity for the roster to improve through potential cap savings. Cushing’s story is well known. He has grown as a man and player in Houston. He was rafted by the Texans in 2009 in the first round, named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, and in that same year, saw his first and only Pro-Bowl selection. In 2011, Cushing was selected to the All-Pro team which was the height of his play for the Texans.
There were also low times. First, the positive test late in 2009 which resulted in Cushing missing the first four games of the 2010 season. Then, in consecutive seasons, 2012-2013, his left leg took a battering on two separate occasions: first, a blindside block from Matt Slauson early in 2012, and the following season he broke his fibula, tearing his fibular collateral ligament in the process, after a cut block from Jamaal Charles.
The road has been long for Cushing and off-seasons dedicated to rehab have seen him the past three seasons performing as a shade of his former self.
In 2016, Cushing finally looked, at times, like he did prior to the injuries. An MCL injury did cause him to miss two games this season but those injuries were not enough to keep him from having a decent overall season. Cushing finished the season with 65 total tackles and took over as the Texans all-time leading tackler with 648 total tackles.
Which now leads to this upcoming off-season. What is next for Cushing?
2017 marks the first time that there are potential cap savings with Cushing’s contract — if the Texans decided to move on from him. With a cap number at $9.3 million, Cushing will enter the upcoming season as the 4th highest cap hit for the franchise this upcoming season.
Looking at Cushing closer, from a football standpoint, he has turned into a two-down linebacker because of the injuries and limitations in space against faster running backs. Late in the season, Cushing relinquished his 3-down linebacker role to Benardrick McKinney and was spot-filled with Max Bullough in certain defenisve situations.
With limited snaps, Cushing’s potential cap hit of $9.3 million is high for what he is being asked to do on the field.
TexansCap.com breaks down Cushing’s contract.
Brian Cushing’s contract runs through the 2019 season. Cushing is due a $5.5 million dollar salary in 2017, along with $1.25 million in roster bonuses. Cushing’s 2017 cap charge is $9.547 million. Releasing Cushing will provide a net cap savings of $5.55 million while leaving $3.997 million in dead money and saving the team $6.75 million in cash spending.
The Texans could clear some cap room if needed, $5.55 million, if needed for other possible roster moves.
If the Texans do move on from Cushing, they would have to fill two linebacker roles to fill in behind McKinney. That could be an issue with a cap situation that might be allocated to other areas.
Cushing, if he wanted to, could take a pay cut to line up with what he is being asked to do on the field. That number would be drastically less than what he is making now and that would leave the Texans less work on the roster to fill more holes.
Either way, Cushing’s contract will be a focus of the Texans on what exactly what to do with him for the future. Injuries and limited work on the field could be signs of the direction that the Texans might go, but Cushing is considered one of the team leaders and the “heart and soul” of the defense.
The Texans are not forced to make a move with Cushing but if another opportunity arises to sign a player or two, his current contract will come into focus quickly for a decision to be made.
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