Sean Pendergast

The Five Most Frustrating Sunken Costs in Houston Sports

John Wall made over $80 million to do nothing for the Rockets the last year or so.
John Wall made over $80 million to do nothing for the Rockets the last year or so. Screen grab from YouTube
When you own a professional sports team, you know what the cost structure is going into the whole endeavor. You're going to spend hundreds of millions on players salaries, tens of millions on coaches' salaries, and you know that there will probably be a whole lot more hits than misses. It's all speculation, trial and lost of error.

Even with that full disclaimer going in, there are some extreme situations where a contract, for whatever reason, not only doesn't measure up to expectations, but becomes a complete sunken cost. A virtual zero. I don't care how many billions you have, those hurt. Billionaires don't become billionaires by throwing money away, and so contracts that are complete null sets sting.

For whatever reason, we've had some EXTREME null sets in this town over the last couple years, contracts that have been the equivalent of lighting a bonfire of American currency. These deals have soured for a variety of reasons, some conventional failure, some poor decisions, and some just bad injury luck. Without further ado, here are the five most frustrating sunken costs in Houston over the last two years:

5. Deshaun Watson's 2021 salary, $10.5 million
Perhaps you remember Deshaun Watson. He is the former Texans quarterback who hasn't been in the news at all over the last 16 months. (I kid, I kid.) The Texans were attempting to trade Deshaun Watson back in March of 2021, and then the lawsuits started flying, forcing the Texans to hold onto him until he became tradable again. Ultimately, that took a year, which meant the Texans had to pay Watson his $10.5 million salary to do nothing in 2021. Given how badly things have spiraled recently for Watson, and given the haul Nick Caserio received for him from the Browns, I'd say this one might have been worth it.

4. David Culley's termination pay, $22 million
Admit it, before he was hired as head coach of the Houston Texans, you had no idea who David Culley was, did you? It's okay, neither did I, and I am PAID to know who David Culley is! Well, in his one season as Texans head coach, he coached like someone who we'd all never heard of before, and as a result, he was gone after one year. Shockingly, the Texans had to pay Culley the entirety of his four year contract, a reported $22 million. That number included his salary for the one year of service, but give how poorly Culley coached, I view the whole Culley Experience as a sunken cost.

3. The mountain of Texans 2022 dead cap money, $52.3 million
Prior to Culley's arrival, and prior to Caserio's arrival as general manager, Bill O'Brien was filling both of those roles, head coach and general manager. O'Brien was fine as a head coach. He wasn't Vince Lombardi or anything, but he was an average head coach. You can win with that. now, as a general manager, he was an abject disaster, trading DeAndre Hopkins and the Texans draft picks like they had zero value, and dishing out bad contracts like they were Halloween candy. Well, the bad contracts came back to roost, and after getting cleaned out of the building by Caserio, the end result is a $52 million mountain of dead cap money that hits the team in 2022. Thanks for nothing, Bill!

2. Justin Verlander's two year extension for 2020 and 2021
This one is a tricky one, because it happened due to Verlander's injury, an elbow injury which led to Tommy John surgery. In 2019, Verlander signed a two year, $66 million extension for the 2020 and 2021 seasons. The only actual baseball the Astros got for that extension was one start to begin the COVID-shortened season in 2020. When you prorate Verlander's salary for 2020 and COVID, and add it to the full 2021 season he missed, it means the Astros paid Verlander about $45 million for one start. The happy ending to this story is Verlander's return to dominance in an Astros uniform in 2022.

1. John Wall's 2021-2022 salary and contract buyout, $84.9 million
This one came down over the course of this past week. When Russell Westbrook demanded a trade, prior to the 2020-2021 season, the Rockets accommodated him, but by NBA rules, had to take back a salary that corresponded with Westbrook's salary of over $44 million at the time. That meant taking back Wall in a deal with the Washington Wizards. At the time, Wall had three more years left on his deal. In 2020-2021, Wall was fine, playing 40 games, averaging over 20 points a game. Once the Rockets committed to their rebuild, though, they thought it would be better to sit Wall and pay him to do nothing. In 2021-2022, that meant $44 million for doing nothing, and on Tuesday, the Rockets bought out the final year of Wall's deal for $41 million. That's practically $85 million for ZERO work. That's living, baby!

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.
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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts the morning drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the pre-game and post game shows for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast