The Houston Texans and inside linebacker Brian Cushing agreed to terms Tuesday on a six-year extension to Cushing's current deal, which came up at the end of the 2013-14 season. Had the Texans not signed him before the end of the season, Cushing would have become an unrestricted free agent. The Texans have a policy of not doing deals during the season, calling them a distraction. They signed Matt Schaub to an extension just prior to the first game of last season and took care of left tackle Duane Brown in training camp last year.
Cushing will get $55.6 million over six years with $21 million guaranteed, which is in the same ballpark as other linebackers who recently signed long-term extensions. The Texans were able to get the deal done thanks to a restructuring of Andre Johnson's contract. Johnson will now get his $10.5 million in two payments instead of one, which, by some salary cap magic that only an accountant or stats nerd would love, frees up enough cap space to get Cushing signed.
The deal is both significant and important. When recently asked why the team was better this year than last, JJ Watt responded, "Cushing." After Cushing missed most of last season due to injury, adding the former all-pro is like adding a big-name free agent. And there were good reasons to get this deal done now before it stretched into the free agency period next offseason.
It makes a statement about who you are as a team.
Not everyone was thrilled with the Schaub extension, but fans should be dancing in the aisles with this one. More important, it sends a signal both to the Texans' players and to other players (and their agents) around the league that when you produce and do the right thing in Houston, you get rewarded. It also lets fans know you are committed to the long-term strength and well-being of the franchise.
It secures one of the two cornerstones of the defense.
Once the team gets a new deal for Watt -- and make no mistake, that will happen next offseason barring a catastrophic injury -- the two cornerstones of the defense will be secure. It is arguable that Kareem Jackson could be next -- the same guy who was so maligned his rookie season. One problem the Texans have had since the inception of the team is a lack of continuity. Now they have one of their two most gifted and consistent defensive players under contract for the long term, with the other coming next year.
You pay him before he costs more than you can afford.
This offseason, the Cowboys have singed linebacker Sean Lee to a six-year, $42 million extension. The Bengals re-upped defensive tackle Geno Atkins in training camp. The market was set and, injuries aside, it was only going to go up for Cushing. Signing him now means the team can create some flexibility for itself before next season.
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The defense is not the same without him.
Without Cushing, the defense spiraled downward last season. Their linebacker core still has much to prove, but one thing is certain: They need Cush on the field. Not only does he anchor the center of the defense, he is a good pass rusher when called upon, plays the run as well as anyone at his position in the NFL and is serviceable in pass coverage. No other linebacker on the team has his range or level of skills.
He head butts dudes without a helmet.