The 26-year-old Cushing was entering the final year of his rookie contract and would have been an unrestricted free agent following the season. The timing of the deal is especially important because as McClain noted, Texans general manager Rick Smith has a policy against contract negotiations during the season. Had the two sides not reached a deal by the time Houston opens its season on Monday, there is a good chance Cushing would have played out the final year of his contract.
By agreeing to the extension, Houston locked up one of its key defenders. Cushing started 49 games in four years since being selected in the first round out of USC in 2009. He missed 11 games last season after suffering a serious knee injury. Without Cushing in the lineup, the Texans' defense took a noticable dropoff.
Update: Cushing's deal is worth $55.643 million, with $21 million guaranteed.