Last week, the sky continued to fall following the Texans’ loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Starting inside linebacker Brian Cushing was suspended for ten games because of a failed performance-enhancing drug test. This was his second failed test. The first failed test came after pre-draft allegations of PED use. During the NFL Draft process, Cushing and Clay Matthews had asterisks attached to their names. Rumors swirled. Drug tests were taken. Both players still went in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft, with Cushing landing in Houston, no matter how much some of us didn’t want that to happen. Cushing went on to win Defensive Rookie of the Year (twice!) and was named as a second-team All-Pro. After testing positive for human chorionic gonadotropin, Cushing was suspended for the first four games of the 2010 NFL season.
From that time on, Cushing has had a career filled with 14,000 foot peaks and death valleys. He moved from outside linebacker to inside linebacker when Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense came in, and he was spectacular in 2011. That season, Cushing had 81 solo tackles, 125 total tackles, 4 sacks, 2 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, and 6 passes defended. He was one of the integral parts of a defense that flipped from 31st to 8th in defensive DVOA. He helped lead Houston to their first playoff appearance.
Then in 2012, Cushing tore his ACL against the New York Jets after guard Matt Slauson cut him down from behind on the backside of a dirty and meaningless play.
In 2013, Cushing was destroyed by another low block. This one was without a smudge of grime attached to it. Against Kansas City in the infamous KEEEEEENUUUUUUM game where Houston almost upset the Chiefs, Brian Cushing blitzed with his back to Houston’s end zone. Jamaal Charles dove into his legs as he ran at full speed. Calamity endused. Cushing tore his LCL and broke his leg. Again, Cushing was lost for the season.
In the time since those devastating freak injuries that were akin to getting hit by a drunk driver two years in a row while following traffic rules, Cushing has started 14, 16, and 13 games for the Texans. Since those injuries, Cushing hasn’t been the same type of player. Instead of being a gamebreaker who could rack up tackles for a loss, rush the passer, play from the center to the sideline, and create the occasional turnover, he became a solid inside the box run-stopper who could use his instincts to pressure the quarterback every once in a while. This type of player is not worth the cap hit of $9.7 million he has in 2018. The Texans are probably better without Cushing starting because of the redundancy of skills with him and Benardrick McKinney. With Cushing’s mediocrity, contract, and the selection of Zach Cunningham in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft, this was probably going to be Cushing’s last season in Houston. His latest suspension has made it a near certainty.
After his suspension was announced, there was vitriol, fury, and an immediate turn against Cushing. We still don’t know what he failed the drug test for, and there hasn’t been any additional information released. The rapid animosity reminded me of 2013 when Texans fans burned Matt Schaub’s jersey in the parking lot and drove past his house during his picksixathon. Or when the G.O.A.T, the greatest player in franchise history, Andre Johnson, didn’t want to play for the team anymore after being promised around 45 targets in the super 2014 Brian Hoyer/Ryan Mallett offense and signed with Indianapolis only to receive lesser, but similar hostility. Or now when 32 year old Duane Brown, the best offensive lineman in franchise history, continues to hold out because his guaranteed money has run out. These players haven’t done anything wrong. Either the sand ran out of the hourglass, or these players made decisions that were the best for them at that point in their career in a league that sucks them dry and tosses them into a landfill once they are no longer as useful.
I really don’t care if Cushing took HGH, or something else to block the production of estrogen, or poked his body like William S. Burroughs. He’s just a player trying to hold onto the contract he has as his career is winding down in a league that’s filled with others who are doing the exact same thing without getting caught.
Cushing has never been my favorite player. He’s no Brandon Brooks, or Andre Johnson, or Cecil Shorts III. But I’ve always liked watching him play. This latest suspension hasn’t soured that. His bicep curling, tongue splaying celebrations after sacks and tackles for a loss were diabolical. I always dug the aesthetics of a linebacker wearing a towel tied to his waist. He was great at wrapping up when making tackles. He was a fun personality on a team filled with nice guys. Cushing is the prototypical jock who lives to toss around heavyweights, bully his opponents, and punish ball carriers. The Mic’d Up segment against Cleveland is legendary. His bloody face is still on t-shirts and the background screen of monitors of Texans fans. Seeing him spew orange and berate Alfred Blue were the best parts of Houston’s turn on Hard Knocks. Cushing once pick-sixed Philip Rivers on after dark Monday Night Football to open what would become a disastrous 2013 season. He’s the only player I’ve ever seen smash Marshawn Lynch.
Brian Cushing is set to be reinstated to play against Tennessee in Week 13. No one has any idea how this situation will play out. He may get released before then. He may play some more for the Texans this year. It all depends on what information seeps out and how Houston’s inside linebacker situation holds up in Cushing’s absence.
Regardless of what happens, my feelings won’t change. I enjoyed watching Brian Cushing tackle people while splattered in black makeup. Another failed PED test at the end of his time in Houston doesn’t warp any of that.