After their season opening 30-10 win over the Dolphins last September, the Texans dropped a bombshell on us – giving Matt Schaub a long term extension. Wary that a monster season could lead to a big pay day with his contract expiring (something that came to fruition for Joe Flacco in Baltimore), they inked him to a 4 year $62 million contract (with about $30 M guaranteed).

I’d like to wake up one of these days and hear similar news about Brian Cushing. With his contract expiring after this season, the Texans would be wise to lock up their best linebacker long term. And soon.

It might not pan out exactly as planned. See Schaub and his late season struggles. Then factor in the possibility Cushing won’t return to form after a season ending knee injury/the surgery to repair it. Signing now obviously has its risks.

But if we’re looking at it from a purely financial standpoint, showing Cushing the money early is the way to go. Doing so would allow the Texans to dictate how many dollars he gets.

What kind of contract could Cushing potentially earn? Let’s take a look at some of the NFL’s elite linebackers and their deals.

Patrick Willis – San Francisco 49ers
– 28 years old, Signed 7 year $53,510,000 deal ($29,000,000 guaranteed) on 5-4-2010

Derrick Johnson – Kansas City Chiefs
– 30 years old, Signed 6 year $36,475,000 deal ($15,000,000 guaranteed) on 11-8-2010

Lawrence Timmons – Pittsburgh Steelers
– 27 years old, Signed 6 year $50,000,000 deal ($11,000,000 guaranteed) on 8-23-11

Of those three deals, Timmons and Willis are worth extra attention. Both restructured their deals in the last 2 years to free up cap space. Timmons restructured his contract February of 2012, and will count just $750 K on the cap this season. Willis one upped Timmons this off-season. In fact, he’ll count just $715 K against the cap in 2013. And he’s THE BEST LINEBACKER IN FOOTBALL.

Why does that matter? Easy – because the Texans have TWO massively important players coming off the books in 2015: J.J. Watt and Kareem Jackson. With those two key defensive piece potentially becoming free agents, Houston will likely need all the cap space they can get in 2015. So why not see if Cushing would sign a deal with an extremely low cap figure that season? You’d think he’d comply, especially to help keep two guys who play on the same side of the ball.

Now, let’s look at another category of linebackers. These guys are all around the same age as Cushing (who is 26), AND have gotten long term extensions in the past year:

Daryl Washington – Arizona Cardinals
– 26 years old, signed 6 year $33,100,000 deal ($5,000,000 guaranteed) on 9-6-2012
– Average: $5,516,667 per season

James Laurinaitis – St. Louis Rams
– 26 years old, signed 6 year $42,120,000 deal ($23,620,000 guaranteed) on 9-8-2012
– Average: $7,020,000 per season, and takes up just $1M v cap in ’13

NaVorro Bowman – San Francisco 49ers
– 25 years old, signed 7 year $46,370,000 deal ($25,500,000 guaranteed) on 11-27-2012
– Average: $6,624,286 per season, and takes up just $630K v cap in ’13

Dannell Ellerbe – Miami Dolphins
– 27 years old, signed 5 year $34,750,000 deal ($14,000,000 guaranteed) on 3-12-2013
– Average: $6,950,000 per season, and takes up just $1M v cap in ’13

Based on the precedent set, I’d imagine the Texans would offer Cushing (who turns 27 in January) some sort of 5 year deal when they begin negotiations. I also believe there’s NO WAY IN HELL he gets a total deal worth less than that of Ellerbe. Sorry bro, but a guy with one good season ain’t better than a guy with a couple of years of proven success under his belt.

So what should Cushing be looking for? Probably something similar to what Laurinaitis (a guy selected 20 picks ahead of him in the 2009 draft) got. The Texans should have enough leverage (because of Cushing’s multiple knee injuries) to deflate that deal a bit.

Before I wrap this up, let’s look at two more inside linebackers. Like Cushing, these guys are in the last years of their rookie deals:

Sean Lee – Dallas Cowboys
– 26 years old, 4 year $3,490,000 deal (rookie deal)

Brandon Spikes – New England Patriots
– 25 years old, 4 year $3,200,000 deal (rookie deal)

A guy like Spikes shouldn’t entertain the same kind of dollars as the guys way above. He’s a great run support ‘backer, but is lacking in coverage skills and isn’t an every down kind of player (though don’t tell him that).

But Sean Lee IS an every down inside linebacker. He’s effective in coverage, and like Cushing calls his squad’s plays. By all accounts, the Cowboys sound like they’re already considering a long term extension. The Texans should be doing the same thing.

Think about it. The NFL is a league where contracts are bench-marks meant to be broken. It’s very likely that whoever signs a new contract first will be paid a little bit less. And that’s why sooner, rather than later, is the time to lock up Cushing.

Get in contact with Paul Gallant on Twitter – @PaulyGRadio – or on Facebook – Paul Gallant.


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