Brian Cushing enters interesting contract year for Texans

Kirby Lee-US PRESSWIRE

The Texans defensive team captain was off to a solid start in 2012 before an ACL tear ended his season in early October.

With 19 impending free agents for the Houston Texans, including players like Connor Barwin and Brice McCain, it would seem as though a contract extension for linebacker Brian Cushing wouldn't be at the top of the team's list of priorities. However, they could consider an extension for the 2009 first round draft pick to circumvent his $4.64 million cap figure for the 2013 to free up space, according to Tania Ganguli of the Houston Chronicle.

An extension for the 2009 AP Defensive Rookie of the Year might seem like a no-brainer at this point, but after a suspension during the 2010 season and a season-ending knee injury in 2012, an extension is a little more complicated.

For more on Brian Cushing and the Houston Texans, visit Battle Red Blog

Cushing, 26, played in just five games for the Texans in 2012 before an ACL tear, but was off to a good start. After a great rookie season, the former-USC Trojans linebacker had a bit of a sophomore slump before returning to form with a solid 2011 season. He appeared to carry that into another solid season in 2012 before it was cut short.

According to Pro Football Focus, an NFL analysis site, Cushing graded out as the only starting Texans linebacker to earn a positive grade for the team in 2012. The struggles of the rest of the unit led SB Nation's Dan Kadar to project Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown to the Texans in his latest mock draft:

The Texans need to add a playmaker at inside linebacker in the event that Brian Cushing gets injured again. Brown is the most athletically gifted linebacker in the draft and can make plays all around the field. Many consider him undersized, but he's not much smaller than current Texans Tim Dobbins or Darryl Sharpton.

However, carried by a dominant performance from the defensive line in 2012, specifically NFL Defensive Player of the Year, J.J. Watt, the loss of Cushing wasn't particularly devastating for the Texans.

In fact, despite missing the defensive team captain, the team still finished with a top 10 defense en route to a 12-4 record. While he is certainly the best inside linebacker on the Texans roster for the 2013 season, the performance of the defense in his absence would suggest that he isn't the cornerstone of the defense that many thought he would be after 2009. That title unequivocally belongs to Watt.

Still very young and entering the final year of the 5-year contract he signed in 2009, Cushing would likely push to be one of the highest paid 3-4 inside linebackers in the game if the Texans choose pursue an extension during the 2013 offseason. The most comparable contract would likely be the one signed by San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis in 2010 when he agreed to a seven-year, $53.51 million contract.

Cushing would seem to be worth less than that, but with plenty of leverage on his side there isn't much reason for the linebacker to settle for less than top dollar. That could mean little to the Texans if they deem him worth the money and offer a contract extension soon, but it could also make the 2013 season a interesting contract year for Cushing.

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