Zach Cunningham

Titans Release LB Zach Cunningham

Making a fourth major cut Wednesday, the Titans will now move north of $10MM in cap space. They are jettisoning veteran linebacker Zach Cunningham, Tom Pelissero of tweets.

A waiver claim in 2021, Cunningham has been a regular starter for most of his career. The former second-round pick has spent his six-year NFL run in the AFC South, moving from the Texans to the Titans. The 28-year-old off-ball ‘backer will have an early chance to catch on somewhere else, perhaps in another division this time around. The Titans cut Cunningham with a failed physical designation, Aaron Wilson of KPRC tweets.

Over the past few hours, the Titans have released four starters — Cunningham, Taylor Lewan, Robert Woods and Randy Bullock — and cleared more than $35MM in cap space. This purge of veterans will give the quartet opportunities to land elsewhere before free agency’s March 13 soft opening.

Cutting Cunningham creates $8.9MM in room for Tennessee, which entered Wednesday more than $20MM over the cap. This move will cost $4.5MM in dead money, thanks in part to a 2022 restructure. The team has now moved well under the $224.8MM salary ceiling, with the Cunningham transaction giving the retooling squad more than $12MM in space as of 2pm CT.

Teams still have until the start of the new league year — 3pm CT March 15 — to comply with the 2023 salary cap, but new Titans GM Ran Carthon is moving early to create space. The team is almost definitely not done on this front.

While Woods and Lewan’s positional markets are not especially strong, Cunningham’s is. A host of off-ball linebackers — fellow Titans starter David Long, ex-Tennessee starter Rashaan Evans, Bills standout Tremaine Edmunds, Bucs stalwart Lavonte David among them — are set to be available once the market opens. Cunningham should still be able to find a gig, though his next contract should not be expected to approach the four-year, $58MM deal the Texans gave him in August 2020.

Cunningham led the NFL in tackles in 2020, totaling 164 in the league’s final 16-game season. He racked up an NFL-most 106 solo stops that year as well, but the Texans’ 2021 regime change altered his standing with the organization. Cunningham’s playing time yo-yoed during the ’21 season in Houston, and he finished his tenure there as a healthy scratch. The Titans claimed the Vanderbilt alum off waivers that December, and Cunningham became an instant starter for his new team. He started Tennessee’s final four regular-season games that year and logged a playoff start.

Injuries slowed Cunningham in 2022, however, and he joined numerous Titan starters on IR. An elbow injury sidelined him at multiple points this season. The Titans used one of their injury activations on Cunningham, bringing him off IR late in the season, but he finished the year back on the injured list because of the elbow issue. As such, Cunningham will not hit street free agency with much momentum.

Titans Place Ryan Tannehill, Bud Dupree, Zach Cunningham On IR

While Ryan Tannehill had been attempting to find a way to come back from his nagging ankle injury this season, the Titans are effectively shutting that effort down.

Tennessee placed Tannehill on IR on Thursday, and linebackers Bud Dupree and Zach Cunningham will join him on the league’s most populated IR list. All three players must miss a minimum of four games. Given the direction of Tennessee’s season, each is almost certainly done.

Mike Vrabel had attempted to go week to week with his starting quarterback, but a report last week indicated the ankle aggravation Tannehill suffered in Los Angeles was set to end his season. Tannehill, who missed two games with the ankle ailment earlier this year, went down again against the Chargers in Week 15 and needed to be carted off the field. He somehow managed to come back against the Bolts, scoring a game-tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter.

Tannehill, 34, underwent ankle surgery last week but had maintained efforts to potentially come back again. Instead, it will be Joshua Dobbs — signed last week off the Lions’ practice squad — taking the reins against the Cowboys tonight. It is uncertain if the Titans are merely going to Dobbs because of a conservation effort for a do-or-die Week 18 matchup against the Jaguars or if Malik Willis has indeed been benched. Willis has made three starts in relief of Tannehill but has struggled throughout his rookie year.

The Titans have Tannehill signed to a four-year, $118MM extension that runs through next season. The former Dolphins top-10 pick is due a $27MM base salary and is set to count more than $36MM against Tennessee’s cap. Tannehill is attached to a $38.6MM 2022 cap hit and has played with a far worse receiving situation compared to his previous Titans slates. Over the past two offseasons, the Titans have let Corey Davis walk and traded A.J. Brown. Ready replacements — a concern at this season’s outset — have not emerged, playing a major role in the team’s five-game losing streak.

Tennessee would save nearly $19MM by trading or releasing Tannehill next year, with that number rising with a post-June 1 release designation. Then again, the Titans have not exactly seen much from Willis — a third-round pick this year — to indicate he would be ready to take over. This season has marked Tannehill’s first injury-marred campaign with Tennessee. Knee injuries hounded the Texas A&M product in Miami, but since replacing Marcus Mariota in October 2019, Tannehill did not miss a game as a Titan until this season.

Dupree has been unable to escape injuries as a Titan. Signed to a lucrative deal despite coming off a November 2020 ACL tear, Dupree has missed 10 games with Tennessee. The former first-round pick has totaled just seven sacks in two seasons with the Titans, who needed more from the ex-Steeler after Harold Landry went down with an ACL tear just before the season. A chest injury will lead Dupree to IR this time.

The Titans just activated Cunningham from IR last week, bringing him back after he missed time with an elbow injury. He will head back to the injured list with an elbow injury. Tennessee claimed Dupree off waivers from Houston late last season and has used him exclusively as a starter. Injuries, however, will limit Cunningham to six games this season. The former second-round pick will likely become a cap-casualty candidate; the Titans could save more than $9MM by releasing the 28-year-old defender next year.

In addition to Tannehill, Dupree and Cunningham, Tennessee’s IR contingent includes the following players: Landry, Taylor Lewan, Ben Jones, Nate Davis, David Long, Elijah Molden, Caleb Farley, Dillon Radunz and Terrance Mitchell. Amy Adams Strunk cited the team’s recent injury problems as a reason for GM Jon Robinson‘s ouster months after his extension. After using an NFL-record 91 players last season, the Titans will end this one approaching that mark.

Titans To Start Joshua Dobbs Vs. Cowboys

The Titans are not exactly going into Thursday night’s Cowboys game with a clear intent to win. The injury-plagued team is planning to rest numerous starters, with a Week 18 date against the Jaguars set to determine its playoff fate.

But Tennessee will make an interesting change at quarterback. Rather than give Malik Willis more reps in his rookie season, the Titans are preparing to start recent acquisition Joshua Dobbs, Justin Melo of The Draft Network tweets. Tennessee brought in Dobbs on Dec. 21, with Ryan Tannehill out with an ankle injury. Tannehill is not expected to return this season, though the starter has not shut it down just yet.

A former Tennessee Volunteer, Dobbs has bounced around in the pros. The sixth-year backup has been with three teams just this year, moving from Cleveland to Detroit to Nashville over the past month. The former fourth-round pick has not thrown any regular-season passes this season; his most recent game work came in 2020 with the Steelers. The Browns signed Dobbs this offseason and used him as Jacoby Brissett‘s backup for much of the year, but once Deshaun Watson was eligible to play, Cleveland cut bait. Dobbs landed in Detroit, but Tennessee poached him from the Lions’ practice squad.

Dobbs has seen most of his NFL work come in the preseason, and the Titans’ Week 17 lineup will have the look of an August matchup. Tennessee placed O-line starters Nate Davis and Ben Jones on IR last week, and the team will be without right tackle starter Nicholas Petit-Frere against Dallas. With Taylor Lewan out of the picture, the Titans will deploy basically a second-string O-line tonight. While Willis’ early work points to extensive development being needed, the Titans may be leery of putting the third-round pick behind this set of blockers against a top-tier Cowboys pass rush.

In an arrangement that will surely test Al Michaels’ patience, Titans will also sit Jeffery Simmons, Denico Autry, Amani Hooker, Bud Dupree and Zach Cunningham. Oh, and they are unlikely to deploy Derrick Henry, who is doubtful with a hip injury. This sets up an unusual Week 17 and an odd Week 18 plan. The Titans look like they will be trying to salvage their season in Jacksonville next week on the heels of a six-game losing streak. Even if the Titans drop to 7-9 tonight, the AFC South will be on the line next week.

Willis has shown some promise in the run game but has looked woefully overmatched through the air. The mid-major product has not eclipsed 100 passing yards in any of his three pro starts and has a 0-3 TD-INT ratio on 61 pass attempts. It will be interesting if the Titans turn back to Willis or go with Dobbs (17 career attempts) against the Jaguars, when they reconvene for relevant football, next week.

Titans Place G Nate Davis On IR, Activate LB Zach Cunningham

Already ruled out for Saturday’s pivotal AFC South matchup against the Texans, Nate Davis may now be done for the season. The Titans placed their starting right guard on IR on Friday.

This transaction will sideline Davis until the divisional round. Given the Titans’ recent performance and their latest injury news, it is a good bet Davis is done for the season. The Titans have placed three O-linemen — Davis, center Ben Jones, tackle Dillon Radunz — on IR this week. An ankle injury will shut down Davis.

[RELATED: Ryan Tannehill Likely Done For Season]

Tennessee did activate linebacker starter Zach Cunningham from IR, but the team will face Houston with numerous starters out of action. The Titans (7-7) are now just a half-game up on the Jaguars, who now control their own destiny in the division race.

One of Pro Football Focus’ top 20 guards this season, Davis is playing on an expiring contract. The fourth-year blocker will be Tennessee’s top 2023 free agent-to-be. Davis, 26, has been a key piece for the Titans since they drafted him in the 2019 third round. The Charlotte alum was a starter on both the Titan O-lines that helped Derrick Henry to rushing titles, and he stayed healthy for most of Tennessee’s injury-riddled run to the AFC’s No. 1 seed last season.

With Elgton Jenkins off the market, Davis’ price could rise. Next year’s guard market is not particularly deep, and with Jenkins having signed a four-year Packers extension, Davis will probably be the top prize. The Broncos’ Dalton Risner and Cowboys’ Connor McGovern will also generate extensive interest, but PFF has rated Davis as a top-25 guard in each of the past three seasons. As far back as the 2021 offseason, Davis has been rumored to be a coveted commodity on the market. His final two rookie-contract years have not changed that status.

The Titans’ exclusive negotiating rights with Davis run up until March’s legal tampering period. Because all O-linemen are grouped together under the franchise tag formula, guards are rarely tagged. It would cost the Titans roughly $18MM to cuff Davis with the tag. It is possible Davis has played his final down with Tennessee, as a new GM’s arrival will add a major wrinkle into the franchise’s upcoming offseason, but the team will surely place a high priority on Davis negotiations. While the Titans’ A.J. Brown trade came to define their 2022 offseason, the period did include a Harold Landry deal — after the franchise tag deadline had passed.

A 2021 waiver claim from the Texans, Cunningham has been out since Week 9 with an elbow injury. Cunningham coming back will help the Titans’ defense, but veteran Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky points out (via Twitter) 19 players who dressed for the team in Week 1 will not be in uniform Saturday. This comes a season after the Titans used an NFL-record 91 players. The Titans have one IR activation remaining; they also promoted offensive lineman Xavier Newman from their practice squad.

Minor NFL Transactions: 12/14/22

Here are today’s minor transactions from around the league:

Arizona Cardinals

Cleveland Browns

Dallas Cowboys

Denver Broncos

Green Bay Packers

Houston Texans

Minnesota Vikings

New England Patriots

New York Giants

Pittsburgh Steelers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tennessee Titans

Titans Activate WR Treylon Burks, CB Elijah Molden

The Titans will likely have their starting quarterback available for tomorrow’s game against the Broncos. Their offense will also have a key piece back in the fold in time for the contest.

The Titans announced on Saturday that wideout Treylon Burks has been activated from IR. That is in line with what was expected, after the team designated him to return earlier this week. The first-round rookie should have an immediate role available once again when he suits up tomorrow.

Burks played in each of the team’s first four games this season, after he was unavailable at times during the offseason. He logged a snap share just over 50% during that stretch, making 10 catches for 129 scoreless yards. The Arkansas alum was expected to have a slow start to his NFL career, in part due to the missed time in the spring, but also his unique skillset and usage in college. The Titans rank 31st in the league with an average of 155 passing yards per game, so his return will be a welcomed sight.

The same holds true of Elijah Molden, whom the team has also activated in time for Sunday’s game. The second-year cornerback has yet to play this season, but showed promise as a rookie. The third-rounder took on a starting role, registering 60 tackles, one interception and four pass breakups. He had been designated for return last week as well, making his activation little surprise. Molden will provide a boost to the league’s 30th-ranked pass defense.

To make room for those two additions, the Titans moved a pair of players onto IR. One of them is linebacker Zach Cunningham, who has already missed significant time this season. The former Texan immediately took on a starting role after Tennessee claimed him off waivers last December, and did the same this year with 24 tackles. Cunningham missed three games earlier in the campaign, and will again be sidelined as he recovers from an elbow injury.

Undrafted rookie defensive back Josh Thompson has also been placed on IR. He, like Cunningham, will be unavailable for at least the next four games. Tennessee has five IR activations remaining for the season.

AFC Injuries Update: Titans, Paye, Edmunds, Poyer

Injuries continue to bite the Titans on the defensive side of the ball. This week, the team will play without three starters as head coach Mike Vrabel has ruled out safety Amani Hooker, edge rusher Bud Dupree, and linebacker Zach Cunningham, according to Turron Davenport of ESPN.

The Titans already have six players on injured reserve from the defense alone, as well as five more from the offense. Vrabel also announced that the team will sit linebackers Olasunkanmi Adeniyi and Joseph Jones, as well. This all in addition to the recent loss of rookie wide receiver Treylon Burks to IR.

Tennessee has elevated practice squad linebacker Joe Schobert and wide receiver Dez Fitzpatrick to make up for the loss of Cunningham and Burks, respectively. Dupree and Hooker’s absences will likely mean more playing time for second-year linebacker Rashad Weaver and backup safeties Joshua Kalu and Ugo Amadi. Amadi has some starting experience from his time with the Seahawks.

Here are a few other injury updates from around the AFC, starting with a division rival of the Titans:

Restructured Deals: Packers, Broncos, Bills, Patriots, Giants

As free agency continues, teams will keep finding ways to open up additional cap. We’ve had a handful of reworked contracts in recent days, which we’ve compiled below:

  • The Packers opened $10.15MM in cap space by restructuring the contracts of wideout Randall Cobb (which was previously reported) and safety Adrian Amos, per ESPN’s Field Yates (on Twitter). ESPN’s Rob Demovsky tweets that Green Bay turned $5.88MM of Amos’ $7MM base salary into a signing bonus and added four void years.
  • The Broncos opened up some space via a pair of restructured deals. Wideout Tim Patrick converted $6.9MM of his roster bonus into a signing bonus, creating around $4.6MM in cap space, per Mike Klis of 9News in Denver (on Twitter). The Broncos also converted receiver Courtland Sutton‘s $10.5MM roster bonus into a signing bonus, saving $7.875MM in 2022 cap space, per Klis (on Twitter).
  • The Panthers converted $11.765MM of wideout Robby Anderson’s 2022 pay into a signing bonus, creating $5.88MM in cap space, per Yates (on Twitter). Staying in the NFC, Yates also tweets that the Eagles converted $14.88MM of cornerback Darius Slay’s salary into a signing bonus, creating $11.90MM in 2022 cap space.
  • The Giants converted $2.63MM of kicker Graham Gano’s salary into a bonus, creating $1.753MM in cap space, per ESPN’s Jordan Raanan (on Twitter). The team also added a void year to the contract, something GM Joe Schoen was trying to avoid (per Raanan).
  • After getting traded to the Bills, quarterback Case Keenum agreed to rework his contract. Per Yates (on Twitter), Keenum reduced his base salary to $3.5MM. Another AFC East team, the Patriots, also got into the game, reducing defensive end Henry Anderson‘s base salary from $2.5MM to $1.25MM (per Yates).
  • Yates passes along three more restructures (on Twitter): the Vikings opened $6MM in cap space by reworking safety Harrison Smith‘s contract, the Bills opened $5.172MM via linebacker Matt Milano‘s contract, and the Titans opened $6.45MM via linebacker Zach Cunningham‘s contract.

Titans Claim Zach Cunningham Off Waivers

Zach Cunningham has a new home in the NFL. After being waived by the Texans on Wednesday, the linebacker has been claimed by the Titans, per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero (on Twitter)

[Related: Texans To Waive Zach Cunningham]

The 27-year old was let go by Houston after having been a healthy scratch in Week 13. His playing time fluctuated throughout the season, his fifth in the NFL, all with Houston. He joins Phillip Lindsay as a post-trade deadline departure, and, more importantly, fellow off-ball linebacker Benardrick McKinney as former key pieces that will need replacing by the rebuilding Texans.

A second-round pick in 2017, Cunningham’s best season came in 2020. He led the NFL in tackles with 164, adding three sacks and a forced fumble. Coverage issues, however, along with a hefty four-year, $58 MM extension signed in 2020 made him a hard player to acquire at the trade deadline. That deal was restructured in March leaving him with a base salary of only $900,000 for this season.

The Titans could easily afford that figure for now, with just over $3.7 MM in cap space before the move. Cunningham’s cap number jumps into eight figures starting in 2022 and continuing through to 2024, and includes $500,000 per game roster bonuses throughout. For now at least, the Titans could use his services. They have been without Rashaan Evans since Week 7, and Jayon Brown has missed five games throughout the campaign.

The Titans could have Cunningham as early as this Sunday’s game when they host the Jaguars.

Texans To Waive LB Zach Cunningham

Made a healthy scratch in Week 13, Zach Cunningham is no longer with the Texans. The rebuilding team cut ties with the veteran linebacker Wednesday, Tom Pelissero of tweets.

Cunningham was scratched for disciplinary reasons Sunday, Sports Talk 790’s Aaron Wilson tweets, and he may soon have a new home. The former second-round pick will head to waivers. He would pass through to free agency if unclaimed by Thursday afternoon.

David Culley had disciplined Cunningham at multiple points this season, including recently due to showing up late for a COVID-19 test, Mike Garafolo of tweets. Cunningham, 27, will follow Phillip Lindsay as a post-trade deadline Texans cut.

The Texans had previously reduced Cunningham’s playing time, but he had been back to an every-down player in recent weeks. Houston used Cunningham on every defensive snap during his final three games with the team. After the Texans’ new regime shopped Cunningham ahead of the deadline, no trade materialized. The team will cut its losses and do so with a big dead-money hit.

Because of the four-year, $58MM extension the parties agreed to in 2020, the Texans will be hit with $12.8MM in dead money. As for Cunningham’s prospects of being claimed, he is due less than $300K in base salary for the rest of this season. No guarantees remain on the off-ball linebacker’s deal beyond 2021, increasing the likelihood he will not make it to free agency this year. Cunningham’s contract does contain eight-figure base salaries from 2022-24, which would make him a potential 2022 cut candidate — should another team claim him by Thursday.

This marks a swift change for the Vanderbilt product. Cunningham led the NFL with 164 tackles last season. Houston had he and Benardrick McKinney signed to big-ticket inside-‘backer deals exiting last season. Now, both are gone.