The Bank of Tunsil: Houston’s path to more cap space

Laremy Tunsil has made a career out of earning paydays from the McNair family.

His dominance as a four-time Pro Bowl left tackle for the Houston Texans has, at times, been overshadowed by the massive trade package that brought him to Houston and the subsequent contracts he signed.

Tunsil was traded to Houston in 2019 for two first-round picks and a second-round selection. He played through the 2019 playoff campaign before signing a market-setting three-year, $66 million extension in the summer of 2020 under then-general manager and head coach Bill O’Brien. He became the highest-paid left tackle in NFL history.

The Ole Miss product, despite overall team failure by the Texans, was able to turn an impressive 2022 campaign into yet another market-setting contract – this time with general manager Nick Caserio. Tunsil signed for three years, $75 million last summer to once again take the crown as the highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history.

In short, Tunsil has done very well in Houston.

This topic is set to come up yet again this spring as the Texans prepare to make a potential Super Bowl push. Under rookie head coach DeMeco Ryans and rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud, the team is well ahead of schedule and won the AFC South in 2023 while advancing to the AFC divisional round. A humbling loss to Baltimore exposed that their overall talent level is not yet where it needs to be to truly compete with the top of the conference.

The Texans have plenty of cap space to pursue free agents and upgrades this offseason but if they want to pursue more, they have a very obvious in-house option with their franchise left tackle. The Bank of Tunsil, per se, could return salary cap space in exchange for more immediate money from the Texans by restructuring his contract.

Why would Houston consider restructuring his deal?

This conversation has to start with the question of why Houston would restructure Tunsil’s contract. The answer?

More money, of course.

The Texans could pay Tunsil a bulk sum to lower his cap number and therefore have more money to spend on free agents or in-house extensions in the 2024 offseason. This would not only allow them to be more aggressive with the market but also to be more intentional in who they retain.

Internally, the Texans have two priority free agents in defensive end Jonathan Greenard and tight end Dalton Schultz. Additionally, it could be prudent to extend Nico Collins before he’s able to hit the open market next year. These were two of the top five Texans in 2023 and another player in Schultz that Stroud has raved about. Retaining them is likely a priority discussion for the Texans.

The additional cap room would allow them to more easily fit these extensions under the salary cap and they could even then be designed with larger Year 1 hits to account for Tunsil’s growing cap number. This same premise applies to the free agent market.

Fans and media alike expect to see Houston big fish hunt in free agency and that becomes more palatable with additional cap space. Running backs like Saquon Barkley or Josh Jacobs could have their entire first-year salary financed by the move. Marquee defensive free agents like Justin Madubuike, Patrick Queen or Xavier McKinney would become far more feasible with additional breathing room.

In short, the additional space would help Houston lean into their contender status.

What would be the mechanism?

The mechanism of the restructure is relatively simple. It would require the Texans to pay Tunsil up-front to lower his 2024 salary cap number as close to $1M as they would like.

This could generate up to $11.5M in cap savings, which is more than enough for a priority free agent or to create generous breathing room on other signings.

The drawback would be that Tunsil’s cap number would increase for the 2025 and 2026 seasons. Whatever sum they decide to decrease his 2024 number by has to be evenly spread over the remainder of the contract. For example, hypothetically what if Nick Caserio pursued the maximal possible reduction to generate the most space?

In this case, Tunsil’s salary cap hit would balloon to around $34.5M for the 2025 and 2026 campaigns – a huge sum which begs a logical question: Would this be worth it?

Should the Texans actually do this?

This is a complicated question and one only those in Houston’s building can decide.

The first component to consider is how comfortable they are with Tunsil. Clearly, they’re financially tied to him for a long period of time moving forward and have repeatedly shown faith in him that he has rewarded. He did deliver a 2023 Pro Bowl performance for the team this past year.

However, how comfortable do they feel about Tunsil in 2025? What about 2026?

To restructure would be to make a total commitment to the rest of his contract. If there are concerns that his play may decline or any internal worry about his knee issues that propped up within the 2023 campaign, this may not be the best idea.

The other idea is to consider how this affects the 2025 and 2026 salary situations. Are they comfortable with adding a little over $5M to his salary cap the next two years? They’ll need to have space ready for inevitable extensions for players such as Derek Stingley and Christian Harris.

If they think they have the financial wiggle room, or think they may be comfortable giving him a new contract in 2025 to avoid the ultimate penalty, then this could be a no-brainer for Houston.

Caserio will show his hand this spring as to how much he wants to accelerate the path to contention for Ryans and Stroud. A move like this would ultimately speak volumes if it happens.

Story originally appeared on Texans Wire