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A look at possible salary-cap casualties for the 2021 Houston Texans

HOUSTON – The Houston Texans entered the 2021 season with a dire salary-cap situation, projected more than $13 million over the cap (via/OverTheCap.com) coming off a 4-12 season. A combination of bad contracts and expensive veterans left Houston without much wiggle room. Come Friday, the Texans’ release of J.J. Watt opened up $17.5 million of space for the Texans, since Watt had no dead money left on his contract.

Here’s a look at some of the other players that the Texans could lose before the 2021 season as casualties of salary cap gymnastics.

POSSIBLE CUTS OR TRADES

RB David Johnson

Bill O’Brien’s much-maligned trade to bring in expensive running back David Johnson for Deandre Hopkins was a failure. Once arguably the best running back in the game, in 2016, Johnson was paid $12 million to rush for 691 yards in 2021. Johnson finished the season strong, but didn’t contribute enough to offset the loss of Hopkins. More about his contract and the situation than him, Johnson also had a less effective season than Carlos Hyde’s 2019; Hyde was paid about 25% of Johnson’s salary.

In 2021, Johnson is set to have a salary cap number of about $8.5 million. By cutting Johnson, the Texans would save about $6.4 million of that.

Total Savings: $6.4 million

RB Duke Johnson

Another Bill O’Brien trade brought Duke Johnson to Houston. The Texans lost a third round pick, but gained a change-of-pace back. Johnson performed solidly in his two seasons in Houston, but with how running backs are generally viewed in the NFL and Johnson’s cap hit of $5 million, he’s a prime cut candidate.

Total Savings: $5.0 million

LB Benardrick McKinney

A longtime solid performer for Houston, McKinney’s 2020 was marred by injuries. His replacement, Tyrell Adams, played well and is much cheaper, setting up McKinney for a possible cut.

Total Savings: $6.4 million

POSSIBLE RESTRUCTURES

WR Brandin Cooks

Cooks has a $12 million cap hit in 2021 with zero dead money. If the Texans want to keep Deshaun Watson happy, they’ll find a way to bring back Will Fuller, whose contract value is somewhat diminished by a history of injuries and his PED suspension. Watson developed chemistry with Cooks in 2020, but Fuller is arguably his favorite receiver (the stats also back up how well Watson plays with Fuller in the lineup). Cooks has said he’s tired of being traded, after moving from New Orleans to New England to Los Angeles to Houston in the span of five years. Cooks is also reportedly close with Jack Easterby, and a restructure of his lofty salary is a possibility.

Possible Savings: $3-4 million

C Nick Martin

Bill O’Brien signed Martin to a 3-year, $33 million extension in 2019. Martin - a smart player and hard worker, is exactly the type of player O’Brien loved. Martin has also not lived up to his place as the fourth-highest paid center by Average Annual Value. Martin has been adequate, but is being paid like he’s one of the top centers in the game. Martin has an out in his contract after 2020, and the Texans could cut him to save $6.2 million. Continuity and his standing with the organization makes it unlikely Martin will be cut, but a restructure would make sense.

Possible Savings: $2-3 million