Houston Texans fans who have been here for a few years remember 2013. That was the worst Texans season in recent memory, a 2-14 debacle that began with a barrage of Matt Schaub pick-sixes and ended with head coach Gary Kubiak's termination. (Actually, Kubiak was terminated after 13 games, but you get my drift.)
That 2013 season wasn't just about poor football. No, indeed, it seemed like, in addition to horrendously played football, there was a new slice of drama each week. Whether it was Ed Reed calling out the coaches before being sent packing, Gary Kubiak having a stroke on the field or Andre Johnson walking out on a game early, 2013 was disheartening, but never dull.
Well, it seems like the Houston Texans have already lived about five 2013s in the past few weeks of 2017. Duane Brown's holdout, Hurricane Harvey, Tom Savage's benching one half of football into the season, a debacle-level loss at home to the Jaguars, five players concussed in one game... yeah, it's been an interesting few weeks, to say the least.
And when it rains it pours. Courtesy of Adam Schefter of ESPN.com on Wednesday afternoon:
Texans LB Brian Cushing suspended without pay for team’s next 10 games for violating NFL policy on performance enhancing substances.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 13, 2017
Texans' LB Brian Cushing’s 10-game suspension begins immediately. Eligible to return Tuesday, Nov. 28, after Houston plays Baltimore.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 13, 2017
So there ya go. Brian Cushing, suspended for PEDs for the second time in his NFL career. It doesn't affect the Texans tonight or next week, as Cushing was going to be out for the foreseeable future anyway with a concussion that he described to Fox's Jay Glazer as a "bad one." However, this certainly raises the question of whether Cushing has played his last game as a Houston Texan.
Let's examine a few of the pertinent questions surrounding this news...
What does this mean to Brian Cushing financially, short-term and long-term?
The suspension began yesterday, so the Bengals game will be the first of the ten games Cushing will miss without pay. When you add up game checks and active-game-day roster bonuses for those ten games, it's about $4 million that Cushing will lose this season. Additionally, the Texans could try to recoup a prorated portion of Cushing's $9 million signing bonus.
Beyond this season, it's fair to wonder if the Texans bother to keep Cushing around after 2017. (To be honest, I think it has surprised a lot of folks that he's stayed around this long without any semblance of a pay cut, given his dip in production following multiple knee injuries. More on this momentarily.) After 2017, the Texans have two non-guaranteed years remaining at a total of $15.5 million in salary, and can cut Cushing after this season with a small $1.2 million cap hit in 2018.
What should Cushing's approach to "damage control" be?
Well, Cushing's attorney issued a statement on Wednesday afternoon. Here it is:
So with no appeal and multiple apologies (I find it funny that he prioritized fans over teammates in his apologies), this is essentially Cushing's admission of guilt. I'm sure at some point he will speak publicly and take questions (I would hope so, at least), and when he does, the best approach to try to recoup whatever portion of his legacy can be won back is to go with the tried and true Andy Pettitte "I did it to get back on the field and be with my teammates."
This would certainly beat Cushing's approach after his first violation in 2010, when he was pinched for testing positive for hCG. If you recall, hCG can only be found in men if they willingly take it or if they have cancerous tumors in their testicles, and so naturally Cushing, rather than admitting guilt, talked about how concerned he was that he had cancer, before settling on "overtraining" as his excuse for failing the test.
What does this mean to the Texans football-wise?
Honestly, this is the least intriguing part of the story. While Cushing is (was?) obviously a respected leader on the team — he was the second-to-last flag bearer in pregame introductions on Sunday before only J.J. Watt — he's devolved into an average player, at best. And on Sunday against Jacksonville, he (like many Texans) was absolutely abysmal. In short, there's a very good chance that rookie second round pick Zach Cunningham gives the Texans everything they'd have gotten from Cushing, with more athleticism.
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What does this mean to Cushing's Texans legacy?
Honestly, this is the MOST intriguing part of the story. Before this news, Cushing was on his way to being a solid Texans Ring of Honor candidate, despite playing in only one Pro Bowl and having injuries that overshadowed his play over the past five years or so. Put simply, heading into his ninth season, with an organization as young as the Texans, a franchise that's had very few iconic players, Cushing has been one of the franchise's faces.
So now what? Well, I don't think you can put him into any sort of Ring of Honor with a SECOND PED violation. That's twice now that his attempts at cheating have left his teammates playing shorthanded. Moreover, if I'm Bob McNair, I'm incensed. The Texans gave Cushing a six-year, $52.5 million contract extension AFTER his first traumatic knee injury in 2012 (and two years after his first PED suspension). They basically did Cushing a solid. Then, after the second knee injury in 2013, and a couple of seasons of average to below-average play, they not only kept Cushing under contract the past couple of offseasons, but they didn't touch his salary. Keep in mind, this is a regime that cut franchise icons like Andre Johnson, Arian Foster and Chris Myers for financial reasons, and they kept Cushing at full pay, even though he wasn't the player any of those three were — yes, even Myers, by the time 2014 rolled around — and did so all under this nebulous guise of "Well, Cush is a heart and soul guy."
Put simply, Brian Cushing screwed the Texans over. They did right by him, and considering how business is done in the NFL, they bent over backwards for him more than perhaps any other player in their history, and for their efforts, they got a guy who had to cheat just to be average.
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