Sean Pendergast

Houston Texans' 2022 Salary Cap Still a Gigantic Mess

Laremy Tunsil will eat a big chunk of the Texans' 2022 salary cap, whether he is a Texan or not.
Laremy Tunsil will eat a big chunk of the Texans' 2022 salary cap, whether he is a Texan or not. Photo by Eric Sauseda
Coming off a 4-13 record in 2021 and a second consecutive offseason that has begun with a search for a new head coach, it's hard to see progress with the Houston Texans. You have to figuratively squint really hard. Like REALLY, REALLY hard. I promise you, though, that there is progress to be seen, and it's all below the surface.

General Manager Nick Caserio has pointed out that several facets of the team and organization, he contends, are better today than they were a year ago, even if one of them isn't the won-loss record (4-12 in 2020, 4-13 in 2021). Caserio would point out the culture in the building, which we will just have to take his word for at face value, since none of us are in the building on a daily basis.

From a  less esoteric standpoint, Caserio points out the fact that they've unearthed a few building blocks in their rookie class, they have some serious draft capital to deploy in April (with more possibly on the way in a Deshaun Watson trade), and the salary cap has been cleaned up to some degree.  All of these things are true, but the third one, that damn salary cap, is the facet of roster building where there will still be major obstacles for one more year.

What do I mean by this? Well, if you look at the Texans' salary cap situation in 2022, here are their top eleven cap hits for individual football players. As you will see, some of them aren't even Houston Texans anymore (those players are in BOLD below):


DESHAUN WATSON, QB — $40.4 million
LAREMY TUNSIL, LT — $26.153 million
BRANDIN COOKS, WR — $16.235 million
ZACH CUNNINGHAM, LB — $12.832 million
ERIC MURRAY, S — $7 million
WHITNEY MERCILUS, DE — $7 million
SHAQ LAWSON, DE — $5.275 million
MARCUS CANNON, RT — $5.2 million
BRADLEY ROBY, CB — $4.79 million
KA'IMI FAIRBAIRN, K — $4.3 million
RANDALL COBB, WR — $3.5 million

Here are the things you need to know about this slightly-less-disastrous-than-2021 salary cap situation for the Houston Texans:

The Houston Texans will carry over some cap money from last season into this season
By NFL salary cap rule, teams are able to take unused cap space from the previous season into the next season and incrementally expand the amount of money available on player salaries. The Texans will carry over about $3.7 million from last year to this year, so when you add that to the $202 million cap figure for 2022, the Texans' team cap is around $205.7 million.

The Houston Texans lead the NFL in dead money spent on the salary cap in 2022 right now, BY FAR
It's a good thing that they are carrying over some space into next season, because the Houston Texans have over $35 million in dead money on their ticket for 2022. This is previously paid out guaranteed money to players who are no longer on the Houston Texans. The $35 million figure is, far and away, the highest in the league — thank Bill O'Brien for most of this, people — and of the players listed above, the five in bold (Cunningham, Mercilus, Lawson, Roby, Cobb) are no longer here and represent nearly all of that $35 million figure.

There will be several players on that list who we will add to the "he's gone" list in the coming months
I would expect most, if not all, of these players to be traded or cut for cap savings during the offseason:

Deshaun Watson (TRADE), trade would leave $16.2M in dead cap money
Laremy Tunsil (TRADE), trade would leave $16.6M in dead cap money
Eric Murray (CUT), cut would leave $1.5M in dead cap money
Marcus Cannon (CUT), cut would leave $0 in dead cap money
Ka'imi Fairbairn (CUT), cut would leave $1.5M in dead cap money

So, while there would be sizable savings against the overall cap for this set of moves, they would collectively leave another $35.8 million in dead money on the 2022 cap. So there is a chance that the Texans are spending over a third of their 2022 cap space on sunken cost for departed players. That is depressing as hell.

This means that the last man standing is.....
BRANDIN COOKS! Hey, I love Brandin Cooks, he is a fine football player, but there is something poetic about the only player still left among the eleven listed here being a former New England Patriot and a known favorite of Jack Easterby.

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 afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast