Texans inside linebacker Benardrick McKinney has been a fixture on the team's defense since arriving as a second round pick out of Mississippi State in 2015. He made a Pro Bowl in 2018, and is viewed by his teammates and coaches as a leader of the team's defense. So when he showed up on the injury report late last week with a shoulder injury, and then was on the inactive list for Sunday's game against Jacksonville, that raised some eyebrows.
As it turned out, Tyrell Adams filled in admirably for McKinney, leading the team in tackles with 13. The team will need more of that going forward from Adams, because it was announced on Monday afternoon that McKinney is done for 2020, set to undergo surgery on his injured shoulder. Let's dig into what this all means, with four thoughts on McKinney's season ending injury:
McKinney has probably played his last game as a Texan
First, let's give credit where credit is due. McKinney has been a rock for the Texans in the middle of that defense for most of his tenure here, with his key trait being pure, old school reliability. Prior to this past Sunday, he had appeared in 80 of the possible 84 games that he could have appeared in, which is no small feat for a guy with his hard hitting playing style playing the inside linebacker position. Now, with the kind words out of the way, here we go — McKinney has probably played his last game as a Texan. Like most decisions in the NFL, it's a matter of value. McKinney is one of the highest paid inside linebackers in football and has a very cuttable contract after this season, with a cap savings of $7,000,000 available by releasing McKinney after the season is over:
Now, look, if McKinney were worth keeping around, his cap figure wouldn't matter, but there are reasons why the financials don't make sense on his deal. Let's keep things moving, and examine the key traits of this future decision for the team's next general manager....
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McKinney's game is a bit antiquated
In today's NFL, with more teams spreading things out offensively and more speed getting on the field for offenses than ever before, McKinney's game is kind of antiquated. He is a hard thumping, heavy-legged plodder who DOES hit hard when he's around the ball, but is a complete liability in coverage and running sideline to sideline. The Texans already have a souped-up version of McKinney on defense named Zach Cunningham, who just signed an overpriced deal of his own, but is two years younger than McKinney and more athletic (while having some of the same flaws in his game as McKinney). If they keep McKinney, then the Texans are paying over $22 million per year for two outdated, flawed inside linebackers, which brings us to....
This gives a clean break from Bill O'Brien's wonky roster building
The construction of the inside linebacker portion of the depth chart is wonky from a skill redundancy standpoint, as we outlined in the previous paragraph. McKinney also represents one part of Bill O'Brien's roster building philosophy that is going to be a major cleanup for the next GM — the overemphasis on esoteric leadership skills with a tacit disregard for how actually good at football a guy is. Whitney Mercilus, Nick Martin, Randall Cobb, Eric Murray, and yes, Benardrick McKinney have all been paid well above market for their actual football skills because they are "DTS," an O'Brien acronym for "dependable, tough, smart." McKinney will be one of several bricks to fall out of the DTS wall this coming offseason.
Texans have actually had pretty good injury luck this season
Lost in the discussion of McKinney's season ending shoulder injury is this — despite the horrific 1-4 start (granted, I think most Texan fans would have taken a 1-4 start if they knew it would get Bill O'Brien fired), the team has actually had pretty good luck with injuries this season. McKinney is the first real core player to suffer a season ender, and the only other starter to miss significant time has been cornerback Gareon Conley, who's been on injured reserve since the beginning of the season, as he recovers from an ankle injury that hampered him in training camp. Five games in, that's pretty good luck, considering McKinney is well down the list of "most important Texans" (that list may be another post for another time).