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Ex-Houston Texans linebacker Zach Cunningham wasn’t supposed to make it all the way to the Tennessee Titans in the waiver order.

But that’s exactly where the former Vanderbilt star landed as the Titans were awarded the star linebacker off waivers on Thursday, just one day after he was released by Tennessee’s AFC South rival.

Cunningham’s addition fills a big area of need for the Titans, who are without inside linebacker David Long Jr., who’s missed the last three games while battling a hamstring injury, Rashaan Evans, who hasn’t played the last five weeks due to an ankle injury, and Monty Rice, who was placed on injured reserve last week.

The 26-year-old LB signed a four-year, $58 million contract with the Texans last season and promptly led the NFL in tackles (164). But things went south for Cunningham in Houston this year. He was inactive in Week 13 after reportedly showing up late for a COVID-19 test. It was the second time he was inactive due to a team rules violation.

“We have standards; I didn’t feel like those standards were being met consistently,” Texans head coach David Culley told reporters on Wednesday of his decision to release Cunningham. 

“I feel like I made a decision that was best for our team. It is not about one individual. It is not about being the best player on the team. But also, being the best player for the team.”

The move also reunites Cunningham with Titans head coach Mike Vrabel and Titans defensive coordinator Shane Bowen. Vrabel was Houston’s defensive coordinator during Cunningham’s rookie season in 2017, while Bowen was a Texans’ defensive assistant that year. Cunningham recorded 90 tackles, six passes defensed, five tackles for loss, and a forced fumble that season.

I know when he came in, I just remember an instinctive football player,” Bowen said Thursday. “Going against him, he’s always been instinctive and found the football. A Vandy kid, too, right? He was a good kid when I was there.”

In 10 games this season, Cunningham has 67 tackles, four tackles for loss, three passes defensed, and one forced fumble. He’s had 100 or more tackles in his last three seasons and he has 6.5 career sacks.

Cunningham’s salary for the rest of the season is just $275,000, and his only guarantee for next season is a $10 million injury clause, meaning the Titans have options with him. 

If he works out and they’d like to keep him around, the team could restructure his deal and not have to pay his potential $10.5 million cap hit. If he flops and Tennessee parts ways with him, the team would not be on the hook for any money owed to him.

Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_