Mark Berman of Fox26 Houston dropped the news today on the Houston Texans release of veteran LB Zach Cunningham
Houston signed Cunningham to a 4 year contract extension on August 31, 2020 worth a total value of $58 million with $23.5 million fully guaranteed with a total guarantee of $33.5m. This contract was negotiated by the former front office regime of Bill O’Brien and VP of Football Ops Jack Easterby. Cunningham was a 2nd round in the 2017 draft for Houston and was an outstanding player during the first few years of his career.
Cunningham did not fit well with the 4-3 Tampa 2 system brought in by new defensive coordinator Lovie Smith for 2021. Cunningham’s snaps continued to drop as the season progressed. Cunningham did see more time on the field during the injury of Christian Kirksey, only to be inactive upon the return of Kirksey.
Cunningham reportedly missed a COVID test prior to the Indianapolis game which led to his inactive status. There has been continued frustration between Cunningham and the organization dating back to training camp. To make matters worse, GM Caserio completed a maximum contract restructure in March to free up 2021 cap dollars for additional free agent acquisitions.
The Texans attempted to trade Cunningham multiple times both during preseason and leading up to the trade deadline during the season. The team could not find any takers. The animosity between the two sides came to a head today with the release.
Aaron Wilson has additional information on the multiple issues here.
Cunningham will now go through waivers. The contract is very claimable for 2021 with $422k remaining in salary + per game roster bonus pay for the remainder for 2021. However the contract does include a $10 million injury guarantee for 2022, which also vests to a full guarantee on the 5th day of the 2022 league year. The injury guarantee will likely scare teams off making claim. If Cunningham clears waivers he will become a street free agent with the ability to sign with any of the other 31 teams.
The release will leave $5.5 million dead money in 2021 and $12.8 million dead money in 2022.
Houston Texans’ General Manager has resumed his shuffling of the poorly built Houston Texans roster with the reported releases of veterans Whitney Mericilus (DE) and Andre Roberts (WR), as reported by Aaron Wilson. Head Coach David Culley did not mince words in this morning’s press meeting raising concerns about player discipline and attitude on and off the field. The release of Mercilus and Roberts was the first clear signal that no player’s roster spot is safe.
Mercilus’ contract is one of the major contract blunders of the Bill O’Brien era when the team gave Mercilus a 4 year extension worth $54 million with a stout $28.5 million guaranteed ($18 million guaranteed at signing). The team went away from their model by giving Mercilus an year early vesting on his 2021 salary. Mercilus’ performance was already starting to decline before this extension was signed. And that decline carried over into 2020 on into 2021.
New GM Nick Caserio adjusted Mercilus’s contract to gain cap space for 2021, by shifting money to the 2022 salary cap. In March, $6 million of Mercilus’ scheduled $10.5 million base salary was converted to signing bonus for salary cap purposes. This move saved the team $2.9 million in 2021 cap dollars at the time. However this shifted dead money to 2022. The team also added a void clause to the contract for the 2022 league year. The team was and is still scheduled to have a $7 million dead money charge in 2022 (originally would have been $3 million).
The Texans will take on a $8 million dead money charge for 2021, along with the aforementioned $7 million in 2022. The only savings is a $617k roster bonus that Mercilus would have earned for being active for 17 games. The $4.5 million guaranteed salary for 2021 is subject to offset. Houston will gain a cap credit, in 2022, on any cash Mercilus earns with another team in 2021.
The late evening player release is likely Houston’s way of trying to sniff out a late day 3 trade compensation for Mercilus’ contract. The transaction will not become official until 3pm tomorrow (Oct 19). If a team were to trade for Mercilus, that would free up $3.176 million from Houston’s salary cap, and would also represent the amount of salary the receiving team would be on the hook for. Unlikely at this point another team picks up the contract via trade.
Houston also reportedly released Andre Roberts WR/KR. Roberts was a member of the historically large free agent class of 2021. Roberts was signed to a 2 year $5.5 million contract with $2.5 million guaranteed. Injuries, fumbles, and poor performance appears to be the main driver for this release. The release will leave a $2 million dead money charge in 2021 and $500,000 dead money charge in 2022. The release will provide the Texans with a $570k cap savings in 2021.
Expect Houston to remain busy the next two weeks leading up to the November 2 trade deadline as the team does have a few potential trade assets as Caserio continues to remake this roster in his vision for the future.
Here is the updated list of practice squad elevations on the season. With the trade deadline coming up and veterans being exposed to waivers after the deadline it may be a time to see if more veterans get elevated or not. A player is only eligible to be elevated two times per team each year.
The New York Giants followed the Green Bay Packers lead by getting in early on player cuts with the release of wide receiver Victor Cruz and running back Rashad Jennings today. The two moves will clear $10 million in salary cap space for the Giants, moving them to about $32 million in estimated room, which ranks around the middle of the NFL. Continue reading NFL Transactions: Giants Release Cruz and Jennings »