The LA Rams have rolled the dice on some risky maneuvers already this year, so what’s one more high stakes wager? Well, I’m sorry to disappoint, but this one is almost a no-risk high-reward scenario. It seems that the Houston Texans have decided to part ways with linebacker Zach Cunningham.
While that is newsworthy in itself, the mind-blowing part of this move is that the cost to claim him off waivers is the bargain-basement price of just $275,000. That’s mere pennies in the high-finance world of the NFL. So what is the catch?
The Texans restructured Zach Cunningham’s contract this offseason, meaning a claiming team would inherit just a $275,000 cap hit for the rest 2021.
The 26-year old LB has no guarantees as of now for 2022, making him even more likely to find a team via waivers. https://t.co/uhEFgTV03h
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) December 8, 2021
Well, he makes a lot of tackles in the Texans defense, many analysts are of the opinion that he is simply mailing in his effort. That’s a pretty tough indictment to make stick, knowing that he has been one of the toughest run defenders in the NFL since arriving in 2017.
No. 1 in run stop win rate among qualifying linebackers in every year of the metric’s existence (since 2017), including this one.
But in 2020 he also allowed the 2nd-most EPA and 3rd-most Y/Snap as nearest defender among LBs (min. 200 coverage snaps), per NFL Next Gen Stats. https://t.co/TwnI6EGWwW
— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) December 8, 2021
But in the course of the last 12 months, there has been a lot of turmoil over the Houston Texans. The team is paying quarterback DeSean Watson to not play, and the team has fallen off the ledge as a result. As a result, many of the players who committed to the Texans in the belief of competing for post-season have been caught from behind that the team is now in full tanking/rebuild mode. It’s tough to get 100 percent out of veterans who are playing for a team that has already turned towards rebuilding for next season.
Will this be another Rams free agency move?
Many of the characteristics of Cunningham are the qualities held by the LA Rams free-agent signings this year. He comes at a deep discount. He was a bit disgruntled with his former team and is seeking a place to restore his admirable reputation. He is easy on the pursestrings. And he is one of the NFL players who can truly be considered a game-changer at his position.
Now, let’s be clear. Rookie inside linebacker Ernest Jones has earned the right to start, and there is no logical reason to derail his development by bringing in a veteran to compete at that spot. But there is a bit to be desired from the play of his teammate, Troy Reeder. And to be honest, Cunningham is a clear upgrade over Reeder, especially at run defense.
The weather is colder, and the running game and run defense are now at their optimal value to an NFL team with playoff aspirations. Even as the 24th team in terms of waiver wire priority, it would make all the sense in the world for the LA Rams to put in a claim for Zach Cunningham. Even if the team is not awarded him off waivers, they can guarantee that eight potential opponents in the playoffs or Super Bowl will not claim him either.