Was Houston Texans Linebacker Brian Cushing Worth Massive Extension?

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Was Houston Texans Linebacker Brian Cushing Worth Massive Extension?

Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing watched from the sidelines last year as Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt became the heart of the team's defense.

However, the Texans apparently haven't forgotten what the 26-year-old can do for them. Despite the fact that Cushing is working his way back from a torn ACL, the Texans broke out the checkbook on Tuesday.

As Tom Pelissero of USA Today reports, the Texans and Cushing came to terms on a six-year, $55.6 million contract extension that includes $21 million in guaranteed money.

Cushing made no effort to hide his excitement about the deal, telling Albert Breer of the NFL Network, "[I] [c]ouldn't be happier, I'm with a team and organization I love. Wouldn't want to be anywhere else."

The news also met with approval (and a little humor) from Watt.

All things considered, though, is an inside linebacker coming off a major injury really worth nearly $10 million a year?

Top Inside Linebacker Average Salaries
Player Average Salary
Brian Cushing, Houston Texans $9.3 million
David Harris, New York Jets $9.0 million
D'Qwell Jackson, Cleveland Browns $8.5 million
Lawrence Timmons, Pittsburgh Steelers $8.3 million
Patrick Willis, San Francisco 49ers $7.6 million

Contract data courtesy of Spotrac

As you can see, Cushing's new deal sets a new gold standard for the average salary of an inside linebacker.

However, when you look at the other names on that list, Cushing's deal really doesn't seem that bad. David Harris is on the downside of his career and grossly overpaid. D'Qwell Jackson has a significant injury history of his own. DeMeco Ryans hasn't played up to his paycheck since before signing his deal with the Texans back in 2010.

And Patrick Wiilis? Well, he's Patrick Willis. The San Francisco 49ers should count themselves lucky that they only have to pay him $7.6 million a year.

Now that we've examined the salaries of these players, let's take a look at how their play on the field stacks up by comparing Cushing's numbers from 2011 to the others' rankings at Pro Football Focus (subscription required) for 2012.

Inside Linebacker Pro Football Focus Comparison
Player Overall vs. Run vs. Pass Pass Rush
Cushing ('11) 3rd 9th 9th 1st
Willis 1st 1st 2nd 19th
Timmons 4th 4th 19th 2nd
Harris 48th 43rd 50th 41st
Ryans 17th 28th 14th 21st

Rankings courtesy of PFF

Judging from these numbers, the Texans didn't really overpay Cushing. In fact, he's the only member of the group that finished in the top 10 of every category. Even Willis didn't accomplish that feat.

Mind you, this isn't to say that Cushing is better than Willis. He isn't, and his knee is a concern. The four-game suspension that Cushing served to start the 2010 season for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing drugs policy is an even bigger one. Another violation could cost him an entire year.

However, the Texans must be confident that his knee will hold up, and Cushing's been clean since his suspension.

Make no mistake, almost $9.5 million is a lot to have wrapped up in a position that many NFL teams have devalued in recent years. A soft free-agent market for inside linebackers the past couple of seasons bears that out.

With that said, the Texans think Brian Cushing is worth it.

The numbers agree.

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