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.