Zach Cunningham

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 NFL.com 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 NFL.com 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.

Texans Shopping Jordan Akins, Phillip Lindsay

Deshaun Watson isn’t the only Texans player that could be on the move. Tight end Jordan Akins, running back Phillip Lindsay, safety Lonnie Johnson, and linebacker Zach Cunningham are all expected to be available between now and the trade deadline (Twitter link via Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com). 

[RELATED: Latest On Potential Deshaun Watson Trade]

The Texans already shipped out one of their veteran running backs, trading Mark Ingram to the Saints last week for a seventh-round pick. Apparently, that deal didn’t solidify Lindsay’s status in Houston.

Through eight games, Lindsay has 41 carries for 105 yards and four rushing touchdowns, plus three grabs for 37 yards and one receiving TD. He’s been far less efficient than usual, though that can’t be pinned squarely on his shoulders given the Texans’ myriad of issues. In his first three years with the Broncos, Lindsay averaged 4.8 yards per tote with quality pass-catching in 2018 and 2019.

Akins, a former third-round pick, is in his walk year. He enjoyed a breakout year in 2019 with 36 grabs for 418 yards and followed that up with 37/403/1 in 2020. He’s roughly on pace for the same type of year with 19 catches and 177 yards at the midway point. Now, he might be on the verge of spending the second half with a contender.

Texans LB Zach Cunningham On Trade Block

While the Deshaun Watson rumors have placed the Texans at the NFL’s trade forefront throughout this year, the rebuilding club has other pieces that could move ahead of the Nov. 2 deadline. Last season’s tackles leader is one of them.

The Texans have made Zach Cunningham available, Dan Graziano of ESPN.com notes (ESPN+ link). Considering Cunningham’s recent role reduction, this certainly is not a surprise. Should Cunningham be dealt, he would follow longtime inside linebacker mate Benardrick McKinney out the door.

Houston traded McKinney to Miami in March, though McKinney was later cut and has made his way to the Giants. McKinney missed much of last season, but Cunningham was on the field throughout. The plus run defender led the NFL with 164 tackles (106 solo — also an NFL-high tally), this production coming shortly after he signed a four-year, $58MM extension. The previous Texans regime authorized that deal, but Cunningham has seen his playing time dramatically reduced this year.

After playing 100% of Houston’s defensive snaps in Weeks 1 and 3, Cunningham checked in with a sub-30% workload over the past two games. David Culley referred to him as a two-down player recently. Having such a player attached to a $14.5MM-per-year contract is not ideal. The Texans would need to eat more than $15MM in dead money to trade Cunningham, though they made a potential deal easier with a restructure earlier this year. Cunningham is playing on a $990K base salary this season.

Cunningham’s stock drop under the Culley-Nick Caserio regime aside, the Texans are not planning to trade their two high-priced players on offense — Laremy Tunsil and Brandin Cooks — barring big offers, Fowler adds. Houston’s bevy of veterans on short-term deals could generate interest this week, but it appears the new regime still views Tunsil and Cooks as useful for the long-term mission.

Latest On LB Zach Cunningham’s Future With Texans

Last August, the Texans signed Zach Cunningham to a four-year, $58MM extension, which positioned Cunningham as one of the highest-paid off-ball linebackers in the game. Although he continued to struggle in coverage in 2020, his run defense and pass rush abilities remained at a high level, and he led the league with 164 total tackles. Now, over a year later and with a new regime in place in Houston, Cunningham’s future with the club may be uncertain.

The Vanderbilt product missed the team’s Week 4 blowout loss to the Bills due to his placement on the reserve/COVID-19 list, and he appeared in only 33 snaps in the Texans’ defeat at the hands of the Patriots last week, his lowest total since Week 17 of the 2019 campaign. Meanwhile, fellow LBs Christian Kirksey and Kamu Grugier-Hill played every snap against New England.

Although Pro Football Focus’ advanced metrics have some volatility in small sample sizes, PFF pegs Cunningham as a below-average to poor defender in all three defensive categories (pass rush, coverage, and run defense) thus far this season. Plus, Cunningham missed the first quarter of Houston’s Week 2 loss to the Browns due to “disciplinary reasons,” and he missed a preseason game against the Bucs due to “personal reasons.” Add it all up, and Aaron Wilson of Sports Talk 790 wonders if Cunningham will remain with the Texans for the long haul.

Of course, his persistent coverage issues limit his appeal to other clubs. Teams want their LBs to be able to cover receivers over the middle of the field, and Cunningham’s inability to do that on a consistent basis is a problem. His eight-figure AAV contract would also serve as a barrier to a potential trade.

And, because that contract was restructured for salary cap purposes earlier this year, the Texans would be saddled with a major dead money hit with minimal cap savings if they were to release Cunningham this offseason. So while it could be that the 26-year-old (27 in December) will remain in Houston through at least 2022, his role going forward is certainly up in the air.

“His role has been for us, first and second down is where he’s most comfortable,” head coach David Culley recently said. “He’s a heck of a player, and [we] expect more out of him as well as the other guys that are playing around him.”

Minor NFL Transactions: 10/6/21

We’ll keep track of today’s minor moves here:

Arizona Cardinals

Cincinnati Bengals

Cleveland Browns

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Houston Texans

Miami Dolphins

New England Patriots

New Orleans Saints

New York Jets 

Minor NFL Transactions: 10/1/21

Here are Friday’s minor moves:

Detroit Lions

Houston Texans

Los Angeles Chargers

New England Patriots

Tennessee Titans

Texans Restructure Zach Cunningham’s Deal

The Texans have restructured Zach Cunningham‘s contract (Twitter link via ESPN.com’s Field Yates). The move will allow Houston to save $5.63MM in cap space by converting $7.51M of the linebacker’s 2021 base salary converted into a signing bonus. 

Cunningham inked a four-year, $58MM extension last summer, keeping him under club control through 2024. Since then, Cunningham has been a fixture in the Texans’ front seven. In 2019, he took a big leap forward with 142 stops, two sacks, and two passes defensed in 16 games (all starts). He led the league in run stops that year, posting a career-best run-defense grade of 84.8, per Pro Football Focus.

This past year, he shined on a less-than-stellar Texans defense and led the league with 164 total tackles. He also posted a career-high three sacks. Still, his 43.0 coverage grade needs to improve in order for the Texans to keep opposing tight ends in check.

The Texans have been working diligently to tamp down their cap figure in recent days. Last week, they also adjusted Witney Mercilus’ deal to find extra space while allowing the linebacker to reach free agency after the 2021 season.

Texans, Zach Cunningham Agree To $58MM Deal

The Texans and linebacker Zach Cunningham have agreed to a four-year, $58MM extension, as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. The new portion of the deal gives Cunningham an average annual salary of $14.5MM per year and keeps him under club control through 2024.

[RELATED: Texans Work Out C.J. Prosise]

When the Texans moved up from No. 25 to land Deshaun Watson in the 2017 draft, they figured that Cunningham would land elsewhere. The Giants were particularly interested in the Vanderbilt product but, luckily for Houston, they chose Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram instead at No. 23 and passed on Cunningham again at No. 55, allowing them to grab the ‘backer at No. 57 overall.

Since then, Cunningham has been a fixture in the Texans’ front seven. He took another giant leap forward last year, logging 142 stops, two sacks, and two passes defensed in 16 games (all starts). Cunningham led the league in run stops, posted a career-best run-defense grade of 84.8 (per Pro Football Focus), and routinely flustered quarterbacks with his 82-inch wingspan.

Cunningham has been knocked for his inconsistent coverage, but he’s one of the league’s better inside linebackers on the whole. Meanwhile, he’s still shy of his 26th birthday in December. The contract positions Cunningham as the league’s tenth highest-paid ILB, sandwiched between Shaquil Barrett of the Buccaneers and Deion Jones of the Falcons.