Cap & Trade Episode 12

We close out the regular season on a high note with Sean Pendergast of CBS Radio and SportsRadio610 Houston. Sean and TexansCap dove into the David Culley situation, how the Brian Flores firing effects Deshaun Watson, thoughts on the loss to Tennessee Titans, the continued progression of Davis Mills, and which players are the team MVP for the offense, defense, and rookie class.


Cap & Trade Episode 11

This week TexansCap is joined by Aaron Wilson of SportsTalk790 Houston. We dove heavily into the future of the organization, what’s next for head coach David Culley, and the Deshaun Watson situation. We also discussed potential re-signings for the pending free agents currently on the roster.


Houston Texans – 2021 Incentive Tracker

Player incentives are something that myself and Houston fans are not used to hearing about. Rick Smith was the General Manager from 2006 through 2017 (along with capologist Chris Olsen) and did not employ the use of player/team incentives into player contracts. That practice has since changed dramatically with new General Manager Nick Caserio. Caserio came over from New England where incentives were heavily used. Interim General Manager tandem of Bill O’Brien and Jack Easterby started the process in 2020 with incentives sprinkled into a few contracts. Caserio took that to a new level, negotiating incentives into the majority of free agent contracts signed during the 2021 season including offseason and in-season contracts.

Given that Houston fans are likely not familiar with incentives and how they can affect the team’s salary cap; this was a good time to explain how they work. We will also show where each player stands with their individual incentives heading into the last game of the regular season. We will not cover salary escalators as Houston has not deployed escalators as of yet.

For specific details into incentives and the list of specific incentives available, you can refer to the Collective Bargaining Agreement Article 13 Section 6 Part C.


  • LTBE = Likely To Be Earned
  • NLTBE = Not Likely To Be Earned
  • Def Snap = Player Defensive Snaps
  • Off Snap = Player Offensive Snaps
  • PT = Playing Time

Incentives can effect the player and team salary cap in various ways, and impact the cash spending for the team. Incentives can be used in practically any contract, including rookie contracts. However they are primarily used in non-rookie contracts. Referencing the above link to the CBA section on Incentives, there is a specific list of available incentives that may be negotiated into a contract.

Incentives that are considered to be LTBE will impact the cap charge for the current year. For an incentive to be LTBE, the league will reference the player’s performance in that category from the previous year. For example, if a player has a playing time incentive of 55% of defensive snaps worth $250,000 for the 2021 season. If the player played in 62% of the defensive snaps (no matter what team) then the $250,000 is considered LTBE and would count towards the player’s 2021 salary cap charge.

Conversely, using the same example, if the player played in 48% of the defensive snaps in 2020 then the $250,000 would be considered NTLBE and would not impact the 2021 salary cap.

After the conclusion of the regular season the teams will calculate all the incentives for players to determine the amount of cash earned through incentives on top of the player’s base salary.

If a NLTBE incentive is earned in 2021, and the same incentive is in place for 2022 then the incentive becomes LTBE and will be charged to the 2022 salary cap for that player. The team will also receive a debit towards the 2022 salary cap through the annual adjustment. Conversely, if a player has a LTBE incentive in 2021 that is not earned, then the team will receive a cap credit in 2022 annual adjustment for the corresponding amount and the incentive becomes NLTBE in 2022.

Teams can utilize incentives to manipulate cap space in the immediate year. Looking at David Johnson in the table below, the first tier of his Total Yards incentive is 1,006 yards. David Johnson had 1,005 total yards in 2020. Therefore this makes the incentive NLTBE and does not count towards the 2021 salary cap.

2021 Incentive Tracker

Sounds more confusing that it is. Below is a table for the Houston Texans players that have incentives and where they stand heading into Week 18 of the regular season. The amounts in Bold & Italics are considered LTBE for 2021. Everything else is considered to be NLTBE for 2021. The dollar amounts stack as each tier is achieved. The incentives listed as Yes Achieved, that is based on projection heading into the last game of the season.

Taylor, Tyrod $   6,500,000 60% Off Snap $  1,000,000 No
70% Off Snap $  1,000,000 No
80% Off Snap $  1,000,000 No
90% Off Snap $  1,000,000 No
60% + Playoff $  1,000,000 No
70% + Playoff $  1,000,000 No
Pro Bowl $      500,000 No
Britt, Justin $   1,800,000 55% Off Snap $      450,000 Yes
65% Off Snap $      450,000 Approaching
75% Off Snap $      450,000 No
85% Off Snap $      450,000 No
Kirksey, Christian $   1,500,000 55% Def Snap $      250,000 Yes
65% Def Snap $      250,000 Yes
75% Def Snap $      500,000 Approaching
85% Def Snap $      500,000 No
Johnson, David $   1,000,000 57% Off Snap $      250,000 No
65% Off Snap $      250,000 No
1006 Total Yards $      250,000 No
1200 Total Yards $      250,000 No
Collins, Maliek $   1,000,000 50% Def Snap $      250,000 Yes
60% Def Snap $      250,000 Approaching
70% Def Snap $      250,000 No
80% Def Snap $      250,000 No
Cannon, Marcus $       750,000 80% Off Snap $      800,000 No
90% Off Snap $      850,000 No
Grugier-Hill, Kamu $       750,000 30% Def Snap $      125,000 Yes
40% Def Snap $      125,000 Yes
50% Def Snap $      250,000 Yes
60% Def Snap $      250,000 Yes
McCray, Justin $       750,000 35% Off Snap $      187,500 Yes
45% Off Snap $      187,500 Yes
55% Off Snap $      187,500 Approaching
65% Off Snap $      187,500 No
Murray, Eric $       750,000 60% Def Snap $      250,000 Yes
70% Def Snap $      250,000 Approaching
80% Def Snap $      250,000 No
Amendola, Danny $       700,000 45% Off Snap $      140,000 No
55% Off Snap $      140,000 No
50 receptions $      140,000 No
60 receptions $      140,000 No
70 receptions $      140,000 No
Brown, Pharaoh $       600,000 30% Off Snap $      150,000 Yes
40% Off Snap $      150,000 Yes
50% Off Snap $      150,000 Yes
60% Off Snap $      150,000 Approaching
Taylor, Vincent $       500,000 20% Def Snap $      100,000 No
30% Def Snap $      100,000 No
40% Def Snap $      100,000 No
50% Def Snap $      100,000 No
60% Def Snap $      100,000 No
Pierre-Louis, Kevin $       500,000 60% Def Snap $      250,000 No
70% Def Snap $      250,000 No
Mitchell, Terrance $       500,000 80% Def Snap $      500,000 No
King, Desmond $       500,000 60% Def Snap $      250,000 Yes
70% Def Snap $      250,000 Yes
Conley, Chris $       500,000 45% Off Snap $      100,000 Yes
55% Off Snap $      100,000 Yes
45 Receptions $      100,000 No
55 Receptions $      100,000 No
65 Receptions $      100,000 No
Wilson, Eric $       500,000 70% + Improvement $      125,000 No
80% + Improvement $      125,000 No
90% + Improvement $      250,000 No
Burkhead, Rex $       500,000 30% Off Snap $      125,000 Approaching
40% Off Snap $      125,000 No
500 Total Yards $      125,000 Yes
650 Total Yards $      125,000 Approaching
Hewitt, Neville $       300,000 50% Def Snap $      150,000 No
70% Def Snap $      150,000 No
Brooks, Terrence $       250,000 40% Def Snap $      125,000 No
50% Def Snap $      125,000 No
Davis, Tae $       150,000 15% Def Snap $         50,000 No
20% Def Snap $         50,000 No
25% Def Snap $         50,000 No

Cap & Trade Episode 10

TexansCap is back with another great episode joined by returning guests Mike Meltser and Landry Locker. We covered the Houston Texans big win over the Los Angeles Chargers, Davis Mills’ performance, the impact of Nick Caserio’s first draft class, and what to look for in the 2022 draft.


Houston Texans release LB Zach Cunningham

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 Trade Mark Ingram to New Orleans Saints

Wednesday afternoon multiple reports came out that Houston and New Orleans had agreed to terms on a trade that would send veteran runningback Mark Ingram from Houston to his old stomping grounds New Orleans. Houston had a glut of runningback depth with five backs on the active roster prior to this trade. New Orleans was short handed on runningback depth. Essentially this could be classified as a “win win” for both sides.

The trade terms have been revealed today with details as follows: Houston received a 2024 7th round pick. Essentially a contract dump to avoid paying the salary if Ingram was released.

Houston signed Mark Ingram early in the free agency process since Ingram was a street free agent. Head Coach David Culley was very familiar with Ingram’s work and character after spending time together in Baltimore. By most accounts this signing was as much about veteran leadership, culture, and a locker room rebuild as it was for performance. Teams generally do not sign 31 year runningbacks for their potential performance.

To facilitate the trade and to assist New Orleans with their tight cap situation, Ingram signed a 1 year extension including a $250,000 signing bonus (to be paid by Houston). New Orleans will now only have to pay 11 weeks of pro-rated $1.075 million base salary for 2021. Ingram is set to earn a $300,000 roster bonus in 2022 along with a non-guaranteed salary and $500,000 in per game bonuses. Details of the contract restructure provided by Field Yates of ESPN.

The trade was surprising for some, including myself, given how much Culley’s valued Ingram’s leadership and presence on and off the field. Suspect that New Orleans reached out the Houston on Ingram’s availability, and as with Caserio on this rebuild almost every player on the roster is available via trade.

Some have speculated that Caserio had alternative motives in signing such a large veteran free agent group as opposed to signing a large undrafted free agent class. The thought is that Caserio may try to flip some of the players for draft picks. Caserio has shown, early in his tenure, that he is willing to spend cash for draft picks (see Randall Cobb, Shaq Lawson, Bradley Roby).

Update (as of 3:30 pm CST) the New Orleans Saints tweeted a video of Ingram’s explanation of the trade. It is interesting to note that Houston approached Ingram and gave him the opportunity to make the choice. This was not a team directed move to just move a player for draft assets.

Houston Texans Release Veterans Whitney Mercilus & Andre Roberts

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.