HOUSTON (SPORTSRADIO 610) — After sitting out the last 10 games for the Houston Texans, linebacker Brian Cushing is finally eligible to return from suspension for violating NFL’s policy against using performance-enhancing drugs.
What’s the plan for him?
Bill O’Brien isn’t sure yet.
“I just saw him,” O’Brien said. “He’s been away from us for a while, obviously. First things first, personally, we have to get caught up. See where he’s at. See how he’s doing. Then go from there. That’s really all I can tell you right now relative to Brian. I was glad to see him.”
It was the second time that Cushing, now 30, has been tagged for violating the league’s PED policy. He was also suspended the first four games of the 2010 season, fresh off of winning NFL Rookie of the Year.
With football being the ultimate team sport, and Cushing being a repeat offender, does O’Brien feel let down by his former captain?
“I don’t know the details of everything,” O’Brien said. “I know that Brian feels — I’m sure he would stand up here and tell you that he feels in some ways bad that that happened. … I think that everybody makes mistakes. Sometimes you pay for your mistakes in different ways. But he’s meant a lot to me in my four years here. He’s a tough guy, been a captain for us. So I’m just looking forward to sitting down with him, talking to him, and seeing where he’s at with everything.”
How much Cushing will be able to contribute is unclear.
O’Brien said he’s not sure what kind of shape Cushing is in, and that it’s important to be in football shape, specifically.
But the Texans linebacker room is all of a sudden crowded.
Zach Cunningham, their second round pick in this year’s draft, has thrived of late, playing 11 games, starting eight and coming up with 21 tackles, two pass deflections and a forced fumble.
Dylan Cole, an undrafted free agent, has also been a surprise contributor this season, coming up with nine tackles, one sack, two pass deflections and an interception returned for a touchdown.
With Benardrick McKinney entrenched in the other inside linebacker spot, and defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel increasingly using a 4-3 base defense, Cushing could very well be the odd man out on the second level of the Texans defense.
Cushing, who signed a six year, $52 million deal after 2013, will count $9.7 million against the cap next season, and $9.5 million in 2019.
The Texans could free $8.5 million in cap space by cutting him this offseason.
“There’s no assumptions being made here,” O’Brien said. “First thing we’ve gotta do is see how he’s doing. Sit down. We’re not in a rush to do anything. We’ve got a lot of guys playing right now at a pretty high level on defense. So we’ll see how Brian’s doing and we’ll go from there.”