Sean Pendergast

More Texans Drama: Four Thoughts On the Shocking Release of LB Zach Cunningham

Zach Cunningham has been thrown onto the pile of former Texans around the NFL.
Photo by Eric Sauseda
Zach Cunningham has been thrown onto the pile of former Texans around the NFL.
The 2021 bloodletting continued on Wednesday morning over at NRG Stadium, as inside linebacker Zach Cunningham, the team's second round pick in 2017, and the third highest paid player on the team behind Laremy Tunsil and some quarterback named Watson, was placed on waivers just three days after he was a healthy scratch for the Colts game due to missing a COVID test leading up to the game.

From a football standpoint, I don't know that Texans fans will notice a drastic difference without Cunningham out there. He had never lived up to the massive contract extension bestowed upon him in the summer of 2020, and this season Cunningham had seen his snap count fluctuate to the point where he was already practically benched a few weeks ago.

Only a Christian Kirksey wrist injury restored Cunningham's snap count to a starter's level, but the missed COVID test was the final straw in a tumultuous final season in a Texans uniform for Cunningham. So let's start there with four thoughts on this shocking transaction:

This was just a matter of time
Whether it was in season (somewhat surprising) or following this season (would have been way less surprising), Cunningham was operating on borrowed time as a Texan. Amidst a reportedly sour demeanor behind the scenes all season long, Cunningham had missed a preseason game against the Buccaneers for personal reasons, was benched for the first quarter of the Browns game in Week 2 for disciplinary issues, and then was placed on the inactive list for this past Sunday's game. It was just a matter of time before GM Nick Caserio decided to move on from Cunningham, a draft choice by the Texans three general managers ago. When asked "Why now?" as opposed to after the season, here's what head coach David Culley had to say:
Cunningham will be placed on waivers, and if a team is willing to pick up his $10 million injury guarantee, then he will get picked up. Otherwise, he will become a free agent.

Zach Cunningham was one of the most overrated, overpaid players in team history
Cunningham was always a player where the concept of what he could or should be far exceeded the actuality.
For every tweet like the one above, you could find some sort of statistic, usually based on some version of "tackles," that would make you squint hard enough to see a POTENTIAL Pro Bowler:

Unfortunately, Bill O'Brien and Jack Easterby paid Cunningham last year based on the squinting and the "shoulda, woulda, coulda" rather than on the actuality:
This is yet another financial mess that Caserio has to clean up
.... and, man oh man, is it gonna cost the Texans dearly....
Between paying for players to leave, like Cunningham and Whitney Mercilus, or literally paying other teams to take players off their hands in exchange for a draft pick, like Randall Cobb, Bradley Roby, or Shaq Lawson, the Texans are operating in a sea of dead cap money in an effort to save themselves from drowning in the hideousness of Bill O'Brien's era as general manager:

The Texans are almost completely bereft of players drafted before 2019
So now, the only Houston Texan remaining from their drafts prior to 2017 is Deshaun Watson, which is the most Texan thing ever that he would be the last one standing, the quarterback who wants to get traded, but can't be traded because of allegations of various degrees of creepiness and possibly criminal activity with massage therapists. I tweeted this back in February of this year, and now I feel like I might be tweeting this into existence:
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