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Texans' long-term plans for Laremy Tunsil not penalized by flags

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HOUSTON -- In August, when the Houston Texans traded for Laremy Tunsil and gave up two first-round picks, they knew there would be a lot of pressure on the left tackle to be a difference-maker for an offensive line that had led the NFL in sacks allowed in 2018.

And while Houston was better at protecting quarterback Deshaun Watson, allowing 49 sacks (ranked 25th in the NFL) in 2019 after giving up 68 in 2018, there was still one area in which Tunsil struggled. According to NFLPenalties.com, Tunsil led the league with 17 penalties in 2019, including 14 false starts. He also had three penalties declined. In his final season in Miami, Tunsil had only eight penalties, four of which were for moving before the snap.

After he was called for three false-start penalties in Week 14 against the Broncos, Tunsil said the calls were “bulls---” and he felt like he had “a target” on his back.

“He's played very well, but he's had too many penalties,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said during the season. “He would be the first one to tell you that. We've got to try to fix it. We've got to continue to try to help him to fix it. I think nobody feels worse about that than him. He's a great guy. He's a great player, but we've got to fix that.”

Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly reiterated that the whole offense needed to be on the same page and “continue to focus on the most basic parts.”

But despite that, there’s no doubt the Texans want to keep Tunsil in Houston.

“Look, we want Laremy here,” O’Brien said at his end-of-season news conference. “Laremy knows that. I think, relative to contracts and all those different things, it really wouldn't be fair for me to comment on any of those things just because I don't think that's fair to the player or the organization. I just think we got to keep those things in-house, but I can unequivocally state to you that we want Laremy here for a long time.”

While there is a chance that Watson’s contract extension could come next offseason instead of before the 2020 season, Houston will make every effort to get Tunsil’s new deal done sooner rather than later as he enters his fifth NFL season. O’Brien and the Texans just went through tough negotiations and a holdout with Jadeveon Clowney after they had him play out his fifth-year option and then used the franchise tag. The Texans want to take care of Tunsil’s contract before they get to that fifth-year option.

The Texans currently have $58 million in cap space, which gives them the space to pay Tunsil, who was named to his first Pro Bowl this year.

To be the NFL’s top-paid tackle, Tunsil would need to surpass $18 million per year, which Philadelphia Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson earned when he signed his contract in 2019.

And not only do the Texans want to set the right precedent with Tunsil, but they also know how expensive he could get if they do not get a deal done and he hits the open market. Trent Brown, who was a free agent and signed with the Raiders in March 2019, got a four-year, $66 million contract. Tunsil would likely command more than that.

Regardless of that contract number, the Texans want Tunsil in Houston for a long time, as they finally have a left tackle they feel confident in since they traded Duane Brown to the Seahawks in 2017.

"He's really athletic, he's got great feet, he's a physical player, he's got good length,” Kelly said. “He's just really everything you're looking for in a left tackle."