Yes, the outside linebacker from Vanderbilt is guilty of breaking the league’s COVID-19 protocols.
But is that violation enough to let him go?
Other contenders will fight for his services, given that he led the league in tackles last season.
There were a lot of reasons for the #Texans to try to make it work with Zach Cunningham, who the previous regime gave a 4-year, $58M contract. It didn’t happen. Now, the team has a $12.8M dead cap hit next year. So much to fix and get past in Houston.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 8, 2021
Through Week 13, Cunningham also has 67 tackles, three pass deflections, and a forced fumble.
The Texans waived him despite him signing a four-year, $58 million extension before the 2020 season.
Teams can now claim him in order of worst to best for $900,000.
Yet the Texans will still absorb a $12.8 million cap hit next season, even if he will play for another team.
However, releasing Cunningham underlies a bigger motive for the AFC South squad.
Texans On A Fire Sale
The dysfunction continues for the Texans as they’ve lost 10 of 12 games.
Tyrod Taylor succumbed to another injury, leaving them with no chances to win any of their five remaining games.
David Culley isn’t the coach that will make them contenders again.
The Texans are a mess, and it won’t change any time soon.
Their doom was inevitable when former head coach Bill O’Brien traded away DeAndre Hopkins for meager returns.
THE HOUSTON TEXANS EXPERIENCE:
– Whitney Mercilus: Extended in late 2019, cut in 2021
– Zach Cunningham: Extended in 2020 offseason, cut in 2021
– Deshaun Watson: Extended in 2020 offseason, paid not to play
– David Johnson: Still the worst trade in recent NFL history
— 41-10Tree (@UrinatingTree) December 8, 2021
But somehow, the Texans are heading towards a full reset after letting some of their better players go.
Will Fuller walked away from the team to sign with the Miami Dolphins.
They also traded running back Mark Ingram back to the New Orleans Saints for a 2024 seventh-round pick.
Houston also released former All-Pro linebacker Whitney Mercilus who signed with the Green Bay Packers.
The Texans restructured Zach Cunningham’s contract this offseason, meaning a claiming team would inherit just a $275,000 cap hit for the rest 2021.
The 26-year old LB has no guarantees as of now for 2022, making him even more likely to find a team via waivers. https://t.co/uhEFgTV03h
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) December 8, 2021
Then there’s Cunningham, who might be the last of their serviceable players on defense.
This trend is alarming because the Texans would like to secure a high draft choice in the 2022 draft.
However, getting an early selection does not always translate to success.
Where Will Cunningham Land?
Unfortunately, Cunningham won’t control his destiny for the next 24 hours.
Lowly teams could claim him if they see him fit for what they’re building.
But it would be better for him to land onto a legitimate contender.
He’s a big help in sealing the edges, especially during pass defense.
I might be in the minority but the Dolphins should be ALL over Zach Cunningham. It’s a move for now and the future.
No guaranteed $ in 2022.
Only 26 years old.
Fills second biggest need on the team
— Neal Driscoll (@NealDriscoll) December 9, 2021
In that regard, the Baltimore Ravens might use him in zone coverage to disrupt the opposing quarterback’s timing.
The Dallas Cowboys might also want to sign him for the rest of the year and have him lined up alongside the improving Micah Parsons.
The Denver Broncos and Los Angeles Chargers might also bid for his services.
Finally, the Los Angeles Rams can make their defense scarier by acquiring Cunningham.
Talked to multiple teams on the back-end of the waiver wire about LB Zach Cunningham and the sentiment is the same: No way he falls to us. Widely expected to be claimed Thursday.
— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) December 9, 2021
Playing for a team with title aspirations may force him to follow COVID-19 protocols.
After all, he wouldn’t want to be the guy that will jeopardize the team’s championship hopes.