NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Not only are the Houston Texans continuing to crumble, but they are also helping out division rivals.

Their release of linebacker Zach Cunningham turned into a major gain for the Tennessee Titans.

After claiming him off waivers, Tennessee is only on the hook for $316,112 for the remaining five games of the 2021 season, and has contractual control of Cunningham through 2024.

Zach Cunningham

Courtesy Houston Texans

The Titans were 26th in waivers, so we know everybody passed on Cunningham except Kansas City, Dallas, New England, Tampa Bay, Green Bay and Arizona.

We don’t know if those teams put in a claim. [Unlocked]

We do know the Titans have a unique blend of inside linebacker needs -- both now because of injuries, in the future with expiring contracts for Rashaan Evans and Jayon Brown, neither of whom look to be in line to be re-signed.

They also had inside info in Cunningham, who was released by the only team already eliminated by the playoffs who signed him to an extension in August of 2020. Mike Vrabel was the Texans’ defensive coordinator in 2017 when the team spent a second-round pick on Cunningham.

“Zach fits the system as an ILB in their base front and as a nickel LB,” Blake Beddingfield said. “He adds height and length to a position that has undersized players like Jayon Brown who is 6’0 and David Long who is 5’10. Rashaan Evans is 6’1 1/2. Cunningham is 6’3 ½ with 34 1/2 arms.

“The size and length help him disrupt passing lanes in the middle of the field and allows him to match up with tight ends like Travis Kelce and George Kittle and will free up Kevin Byard to continue to play his role and not force him to match these tight ends.”

Said one personnel man with a third team in the NFL: “Zach is talented. He would be a good player for anyone.”

It would have been tough for the Titans to prepare Cunningham even for situational work Sunday against Jacksonville with one day of work. But it’s not a possibility because of Covid protocols. He won’t be eligible to be on the field and he may not even be allowed in the building until Tuesday.

I love the move not just for now, with David Long still dealing with the hamstring injury that cost him the last three games. He didn’t practice Wednesday or Thursday. Jayon Brown is still on the injury report with a quad and Rashaan Evans is still listed with an ankle that cost him the last five games, but both have been full participants this week.

I fully expect it's a long-term move as well.

Evans and Brown have expiring contracts. Evans didn’t have his fifth-year option picked up last spring and has never played liked a first-rounder. Brown found no market as a free agent last offseason and came back on a one-year deal with dead years to allay costs. Beaten up he's not the same played he was at his peak and David Long is better.

Cunningham and David Long would be a strong starting set and the Titans have good feelings about Monty Rice who suffered what Shane Bowen revealed was a season-ending ankle injury in New England.

Kuharsky megaphoneCunningham carries cap hits of $10.5 million, $11.5 million and $13 million over the next three years but it carries no fully guaranteed money.

The 2022 salary is guaranteed only if Cunningham suffers an injury that extends beyond then and it fully guarantees in March. He’s got $500,000 roster bonuses in 2022 and 2023, per Sportrac.

Beddingfield said the one issue with Cunningham has been his “want-to” and physicality going all the way back to when he played at Vanderbilt.

“When he has bought into the team and program he is long and athletic, playing the run and pass equally well and showing no issues in his play,” Beddingfield said.

He and the Texans, a bad organization right now, clearly had big issues that resulted in his release. I expect Vrabel will be able to manage things and get the best out of Cunningham.

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