Sean Pendergast

Four Thoughts on Texans LT Laremy Tunsil's Hand Injury

Laremy Tunsil suffered a hand injury on Sunday against New England.
Laremy Tunsil suffered a hand injury on Sunday against New England. Photo by Eric Sauseda
The Houston Texans were already operating this season with both hands tied behind their collective back. On the one hand, you have all of the clutter and slop left behind from the Bill O'Brien Era — cap issues, bad contracts, very few good players. On the other hand, you have the Deshaun Watson situation, which has left the team without a quarterback capable of consistently elevating whatever talent remains on the roster.

As we get into the sixth week of the NFL season, now the normal, garden variety adversity starts to hit. The usual NFL stuff, like injuries. Unfortunately, if you're one of the Texan fans out there who is still rooting for this team to win games, 2022 draft position be damned, then you're rooting for a team that's lost its most valuable player for the last month or so (with no clear timetable for return), Watson's replacement Tyrod Taylor, and now arguably the team's second most valuable player is banged up and teetering on his season ending as well:
This one hurts, but admittedly it would hurt a whole lot worse (a) if the Texans' games in 2021 felt like they had any significant meaning, and (b) if Tunsil were protecting Deshaun Watson, not Davis Mills. A few more thoughts on the Texans' left tackle being, at the very least, hindered, and possibly missing significant time.

There goes any chance of moving Tunsil at the trade deadline
The NFL's trade deadline is November 2. That's right after the Texans' Week 8 game against the Los Angeles Rams. That's less than three weeks away. Presumably, no player on this roster is off limits, when ti comes to the possibility of being moved in a trade, and other than Watson, a healthy Tunsil would be considered the most valuable commodity on the Texans' roster. Now, would teams want to trade for Tunsil, knowing that he is damaged goods? What's even more interesting is that now Tunsil has the pending surgery on his hand as a trump card, a de facto "no trade clause," if the Texans were to want to move him to a team for whom he doesn't want to play. If they have a deal with an undesirable team, Tunsil can say "Nah, I think I'll get that surgery now."

If Tunsil sits, does this reopen a move back to tackle for Tytus Howard?
Let's assume that Tunsil decides to get surgery and finish his 2021 campaign on injured reserve, which would be a distinct possibility. This would leave a hole at left tackle, on a line that already lost its starting right tackle, Marcus Cannon, to a back injury last week. Left guard Tytus Howard, who was drafted to play tackle originally, in 2019, has struggled mightily transitioning to left guard. He is rated 72nd out of 74 guards on Pro Football Focus. If Tunsil were to sit down with his injury, the Texans should give serious thought to moving Howard back to his more natural position, either at left tackle for Tunsil, or at right tackle, and perhaps move Charlie Heck over to the left. The clock is ticking on finding out what the Texans have in Howard, and this season has only muddied the waters.

Protecting Davis Mills just got much harder
While earlier I said that this Tunsil injury would be far more worrisome if Watson were playing for the Texans, I would still like for rookie QB Davis Mills to have a comfortable pocket to throw from. If Tunsil is banged up, and certainly if he decides to get surgery and shut it down, that just got much more dicey. While Tunsil has not had a great year overall (56th out of 74 tackles on PFF), his pass blocking has been very, very good (74.2 pass blocking grade on PFF). Geron Christian seemed to do a nice enough job in replacing Tunsil against New England on Sunday, but he is no Tunsil, long term.

The Texans salary cap ledger is somewhat depressing
Laremy Tunsil has the second largest 2021 salary cap hit of any Houston Texans player, which means this injury augments a trend in which the most expensive Texans players have some of the more depressing and infuriating 2021 stories. Here are the Texans' nine biggest cap hits, which comprise around 34 percent of the team's salary cap spend:

Deshaun Watson QB, $15,940,000
Laremy Tunsil LT, $9,293,333
Whitney Mercilus DE, $8,617,647
Eric Murray SS,  $7,455,882
Zach Cunningham OLB,  $5,738,088
Brandin Cooks WR,  $5,588,236
David Johnson RB,  $4,779,411
Maliek Collins DT,  $4,705,882
Ka'imi Fairbairn K,  $4,200,000 

Honestly, the only one on that list who's been a remotely decent value is Cooks, who is among the league leaders in catches and receiving yards. Every other name on that list has some sort of personal drama (Watson, Cunningham), medical issue (Tunsil, now), or has just been a flat out disappointment on the field (all of them, except Cooks and Watson, who hasn't played).

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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