Brian Cushing's Deal Is Done. Who's Next?
Omar Little put it best -- a man's gotta have a code.
There's a time to color outside the lines, and there's a time to adhere unflinchingly to your own internal set of rules, and when it comes to contract negotiations, the Texans live by a strict moral code: Any negotiations of contract extensions or new deals will take place only outside of the regular season. Once the ball gets kicked off that first week or so of September, any contract talk goes on hiatus until January (or hopefully, February, right?).
It's served the team well over the years in that a) it's prevented contract negotiations from becoming an in-season distraction and b) it's created a real and impending deadline for guys who truly want to ink a deal to get it done.
It's come into play frequently over the past couple of seasons, as in addition to the normal free agency activity, there have been a small parade of offseason contract extensions:
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In 2011, their philosophy was a non-issue. Tight end Owen Daniels got his extension done back in March of that year, inking a four-year deal to remain a Texan through 2014.
In 2012, though, there was a lot more work to do.
Like Daniels, running back Arian Foster got his deal done in March, before the draft, almost a year to the day after the tight end.
Others cut it a little closer, like left tackle Duane Brown getting his six-year extension completed in mid-August last year, just a few weeks before the start of training camp.
Then there are guys who cut it as close as allowable, like quarterback Matt Schaub, who inked his extension so close to last season's opener that they actually announced it after the first regular season game of 2012 in the post-game presser.
Thankfully for the Texans, the Schaub extension was announced after a game in which the Texans destroyed the Dolphins by a final score of 30-10. As divided as the city already was (and still is) on Schaub, I think Reliant might have burned to the ground if they had announced a $62 million extension for him coming off a loss to the Dolphins.
(By the way, Schaub's tenure in Houston and the importance of this season for him are a huge focal point of my Texans 2013 season preview, which can be found in print and online right here! Hopefully, the season -- and Schaub -- won't end up Breaking Bad(ly).) As for 2013, the Texans' most important offseason order of business extension-wise was getting inside linebacker and defensive captain Brian Cushing locked up to a long-term extension. Entering his fifth season with the team, Cushing was in a strange spot in that he was coming off a knee injury that oddly enough provided simultaneous evidence for and an obstacle against the extension getting done.
On the one hand, after Cushing went out with his torn ACL, the result of a dirty hit by a Jets offensive lineman last season in Week 5, the Texans defense was never really the same, and by the end of the year, teams had figured out how to attack the middle of the field with Cushing absent. On top of that, the defense's emotional intensity was noticeably different without Cushing. J.J. Watt is the team's best defensive player, but Cushing is the defense's heartbeat and its one-man lunatic fringe.
In short, Cushing's value to this team was hammered home by his absence.
On the other hand, it was an ACL injury that can be poison for a guy whose sideline-to-sideline speed is a huge part of his effectiveness. The team needed to see that he was 100 percent healed before investing several tens of millions of dollars in him for the long haul. In essence, the team probably saw everything they needed to see in practice and workouts, but the translation to the field was hammered home in the first defensive series of the first preseason game against the Dolphins, when Cushing snuffed out a screen pass behind the line of scrimmage.
There was your sign: The old Brian Cushing was back. Proceed with extension.
The end result is that Cushing and the Texans agreed to a deal that will run through 2019 in which Cushing will earn over $55 million with $21 million of that total guaranteed. (NOTE: To fit everything under the salary cap, the Texans opened up space by converting $5.5 million of Andre Johnson's 2013 salary to a signing bonus.) Cushing's deal is the Texans' next big move to lock down a "foundation" type player, and the second former first rounder of the team in two years to sign on long-term, Brown being the other.
Now is probably an appropriate time to look ahead to this time next season. Who will be the primary "to do" on Rick Smith's "to do" list?
Conventional wisdom says that the same process the Texans have gone through the last two off-seasons with their 2008 and 2009 first round picks, they will be doing again in 2014 for their 2010 first rounder, cornerback Kareem Jackson, who will have one year remaining on his rookie deal next summer.
There was a time during his rookie season and early in his second season where suggesting the Texans extend Kareem Jackson would have been viewed like suggesting you give the keys to Lindsay Lohan. However, Jackson improved throughout 2011 and then in 2012 took a huge step toward becoming a Pro Bowl cornerback (or at least someone you could suggest for the Pro Bowl and not get laughed at).
The broader question for the Texans isn't so much if they should extend Jackson, but who will they have to let go or restructure to make an extension happen.
One final point of clarification on Summer 2014, which is generally thought by some to be the summer the team would have to extend defensive end J.J. Watt. The team actually has the option of extending him for a fifth year at the average salary of the 3rd through 25th highest paid defensive ends, which would be somewhere in the $6 million to $7 million range. (The team actually lucked out by picking 11th not 10th in 2011, as Watt's 2015 season would have cost the average salary of the top ten highest paid defensive ends in football if he'd gone in the top ten, which would have meant a 2015 salary closer to $11 million to $12 million.)
So you can breathe a little bit easier Texans fans, your team can procrastinate one more season until they have to pay J.J. Watt some sort of monster deal whose starting point in negotiations will look a lot like a deal a former Texan got when he left after 2011.
For now, though, Texan fans can celebrate, for there will be blood for many years to come. Brian Cushing is a Texan through 2019.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 Yahoo! Sports Radio from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and nationally on the Yahoo! Sports Radio network Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon CST. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.
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