Brian Cushing is the heart of the Houston Texans defense, but he is also at the heart of their future cap situation.
Entering this season at the age of 30, linebacker Brian Cushing is in the final year of a $52 million contract extension he signed back in 2012. He is set to cost the Texans $8.5 million in cap room this year.
While this is a big number for an inside linebacker who has lost the bulk of his athleticism to injuries, the Texans can afford to payCushing and utilize him in different ways.
Cushing can be a bridge inside linebacker. What that means is he will help mentor the two young linebackers the Texans have recently spent second round selections on.
How would it work?
Benardrick McKinney is already a budding star at the position. He is a run stuffing menace in the middle of the defense. He will never be an elite cover man, but that’s why the Texans drafted Zach Cunningham in April.
McKinney will slowly take over as a captain as Cushing declines.
The real work for Cushing, is going to be splitting time as he mentors Cunningham.
While he may not like the idea of being a mentor, Cushing is still a team player.
Cunningham’s selection may have added some fuel to a fire of motivational rage in Cushing as well. That is more than okay. Having three stud linebackers is never a problem.
There are really only three ways this would boil down on the field.
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Cushing could ball out and resemble his old self in one last twilight season. He and Cunningham could split snaps, with the latter taking over on third downs until he finally squeezes Cushing out.
Lastly, Cushing could fall and Cunningham could then take hold of the reigns from here on out.
The point is, Cushing can still be an impact player for a team budding for a championship, the Texans can afford to keep him despite his large contract.
How does that impact other players on the Texans?
The Texans have a trio of stars that need to be paid within the next calendar year.
Left tackle Duane Brown, wide receiver Deandre Hopkins, and pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney all expect to sign new deals within the next year.
Hopkins and Clowney will almost certainly get max contracts due to their production among their peers.
Brown would like a bloated contract after seeing struggling bottom tier tackles like Matt Kalil get $50+ million this summer-$31 of which is guaranteed.
Brown will not get that. He will likely get some form of an extension with bonuses in there to make him happy, but it will not break the bank.
Hopkins could see a $70 million contract handed to him like the Broncos gave Demaryius Thomas. This could mean a yearly salary around $11.5 million. That is very doable for general manager Rick Smith and the Texans.
Clowney is where the problem arises, as he may very well play himself into a $100 million dollar contract. With the way pass rushers are being paid in today’s NFL that could be the case. Handing the former Gamecock roughly $16 million a year is tough to swallow, but he will perform.
Can the Texans fit everyone under the cap?
The simple answer is yes.
If the Texans pay Hopkins like a top-five receiver and Clowney like a top-five edge rusher, Houston will still have close to $30 million left and they currently have $60 million in cap space.
They can even extend Brown a bit and have just over $20 million left.
So if the Texans can re-sign those three during this season while keeping a veteran leader and the heart of their defense, why wouldn’t they?
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