Houston Texans: Zach Cunningham is now a major team cornerstone

Houston Texans, Zach Cunningham (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Houston Texans, Zach Cunningham (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

The Houston Texans linebacker Zach Cunningham has become a cornerstone for the franchise.

In an offseason in which all eyes have been fixed upon the contract negotiations between the Houston Texans and superstar quarterback Deshaun Watson, the team has been able to dish out extensions to other key contributors along the way, now including Zach Cunningham.

The first major extension of 2020 was left tackle Laremy Tunsil, whom the team traded two first round picks and a second rounder in 2019, who was then rewarded with a three-year, $66 million contract with $50 million in guarantees.

With just over 10 days before the NFL season opener between the Houston Texans and the Kansas City Chiefs, the team also invested in their future with a four-year, $58 million extension for Cunningham, who is an underrated linebacker.

Cunningham was drafted by the Texans in the second round out of Vanderbilt in 2017 and has been one of the more consistent defenders for the team since he was taken. Houston rewarded their new Pro-Bowl linebacker after he led the AFC in tackles with 142 in 2019 with a yearly average of $14.5 million.

The Texans now feature two of the 15 highest-paid off-ball linebackers in the league, including Bernadrick McKinney who earns $10 million per year from his five-year contract signed in 2018. Cunningham specializes in run defense, but could see improvement in his coverage abilities under new defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver’s scheme.

Houston Texans News: Zach Cunningham is 5th highest paid player on team

After receiving an 89.2 grade in run defense last season (by Pro Football Focus), in addition to posting two sacks on the year, Cunningham has solidified himself as one of the major cornerstones of the Houston Texans franchise moving forward.

At this moment he is the fourth highest paid Texans player in terms of the total money earned from their full contracts, placing just below J.J. Watt ($100 million), Brandin Cooks ($81 million), and Tunsil. It can be argued that Watt will not be receiving another major long-term extension with the team, and it remains to be seen how Cooks will fit with the team but there are major reasons for optimism in that department.

With the impending extension for Deshaun Watson coming at some point in the next year, Cunningham now joins players like Tunsil, Justin Reid, Tytus Howard and hopefully Cooks that the team is planning on keeping around for the long haul.

The fourth year linebacker has totaled 339 tackles, 15 TFLs, two fumble recoveries, one interception for a touchdown, and 3.5 sacks since he joined the Houston Texans. PFF grades him as the 21st best linebacker in the NFL and the third best run defender at his position league-wide.

Next. Texans still have to face Yannick Ngakoue in 2020. dark

The Texans linebackers corps are now locked in for the foreseeable future with Cunningham and McKinney playing next to standout Whitney Mercilus, breakout candidate Jacob Martin, plus third-round draft pick Jonathan Greenard, which makes for some very intense and exciting defensive football ahead in 2020 and beyond.