There are a few guarantees for the Houston Texans, and those are the fan base is loyal, the front office will always make questionable decisions, and linebacker Zach Cunningham will be a tackles machine.
Cunningham led the entire NFL in tackles last season with a combined 164, and within that number, 106 were solo tackles, both league highs in 2020. Pro Football Focus graded Zach Cunningham at 60.9 in 2020, which is respectable considering the overall play of the Houston defense last season.
The Houston Texans have Cunningham at a bargain in 2021 with a base salary of $990,000, with a signing bonus of $2.4 million. Next season for 2022 is where the real big money in Cunningham’s contract comes to the surface, as that will be a $10 million base salary with a $2.4 million signing bonus. There is other restructuring and a roster bonus in his contract as well, but he did lead the league in tackles last season, so Cunningham is doing something correct.
Getting away from the business aspect of his contract, Cunningham didn’t have the best season when in coverage in ’20, as that hampered his PFF grade from last season. He had an above-average pass rush grade by PFF in ’20, but the coverage grade wasn’t the best, which might have added to his tackles numbers.
One thing about Cunningham is he’s a very dependable player for the Houston Texans defense, playing in 16 games for three of his first four seasons, and one season he played in 14 games. Since joining the Houston Texans, those four seasons have included Cunningham starting in 13 or more games each season, with 16 starts in each of the past two years.
Houston Texans: Zach Cunningham with Lovie Smith as DC will be fun
In a recent article posted by Mark Lane of TexansWire.com, he quoted Lovie Smith speaking about having the option of Zach Cunningham and the blitz in the Tampa 2 (a 4-3 base defense) in ’21, something the linebacker is talented at when in the 3-4 defense, Houston’s defensive scheme in past seasons:
“He’ll have an opportunity to blitz. He’s an excellent blitzer, I think. We talked about tackling. The other part of his game that I’m anxious to see him take another step in is the pass part of it.”
The comment went on to talk about Cunningham basically improving in coverage, becoming a player who can be an “interceptor” for the Texans and playing in zone coverage.
Without J.J. Watt and others on defense taking the spotlight in ’21, year five with the Houston Texans for Cunningham is “must-watch” football for fans of all ages. Cunningham can be a special player with Lovie Smith as his DC in ’21, and Cunningham is a very important part of the Texans’ rebuild to have success for many years to come.