Laremy Tunsil has a unique ability to stonewall pass rushers as one of the most athletic and technically sound offensive tackles in the NFL.
The Texans’ two-time Pro Bowl left tackle is the second highest paid player on the roster in terms of compensation this year, $17.7 million behind wide receiver Brandin Cooks’ $18.5 million total compensation.
That’s how valuable Tunsil is as one of the top blockers in the NFL. The Texans have restructured Tunsil’s contract this offseason and plan to go forward with him as their top offensive lineman, converting his $17.85 million salary into a $16.815 million bonus with $1.035 million as his new salary. His 2023 salary of $18.5 million is unchanged.
That clarity of Tunsil’s status followed unprompted, exploratory calls from teams wanting to trade for the former Miami Dolphins first-round draft pick leading up to free agency.
Ultimately, the Texans wanted to keep Tunsil in the fold as one of the most talented players on a rebuilding football team after trading for him from the Dolphins under former coach and general manager Bill O’Brien and originally signing him to a three-year, $66 million deal.
“I mean, we could talk a while about what separates Laremy,” said Texans coach Lovie Smith, who added that tackle might be the best position on the team between Tunsil and right tackle Tytus Howard. “There’s a reason we pay him more than anybody else on our football team. He’s not a good player, he’s a special player, a special man, his presence.”
What Tunsil wasn’t last season was healthy and available due to undergoing surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left thumb suffered against the New England Patriots.
The injury ended his season, remaining on injured reserve for the duration of the season. Tunsil not returning as soon as former head coach David Culley originally projected, a four-week recovery estimate, raised some questions about his future with the Texans. Smiling and joking with reporters, Tunsil was pleased to hear about Smith’s feedback.
“That sounds good to me,” Tunsil said. “I’m going to get another bag, right? I’m just joking. I mean, it’s great, just getting praise like that from a head coach like Lovie Smith who led a team to the Super Bowl with the Chicago Bears, so it feels great.”
Tunsil was limited to five games last season after injuring his thumb. The Texans struggled to protect quarterbacks Davis Mills and Tyrod Taylor, allowing 44 sacks overall. They ranked last in the NFL at running the football.
Having a healthy Tunsil should provide a boost to the offense.
“My hand is doing great,” Tunsil said.
“I think when he’s playing at his best, he’s a top one, if not top-three tackle in the league,” Mills said of Tunsil. “So, it’s definitely exciting dropping back knowing your backside is covered.”
Now, Tunsil is upbeat about the Texans’ prospects of upgrading the offense under new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. Hamilton, who has worked previously with Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert and former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, is injecting new ideas and game plans into the offense.
“We went and got Pep Hamilton,” Tunsil said. “We’re finna get this rolling. I like the creativity. You know, put LT at quarterback. I can get a little pass down the field. We can switch it up, but I do like the creativity.”
Tunsil had succinct praise for several teammates, including rookie left guard Kenyon Green, a first-round draft pick from Texas A&M.
“Dog,” Tunsil said.
It was his same one-word description for Mills, rookie running back Dameon Pierce, and himself.
Tunsil is feeling a better vibe this year under Smith in the wake of a 4-13 season. The Texans have gone 8-25 over the past two seasons. There was roughly 95 percent attendance during the offseason workout program.
“So, that speaks for itself right there,” Tunsil said. “You know, Lovie preaches that all the time, follow his direction as he leads. We’re going to follow him. 90-plus (percentage) for offseason attendance is pretty special. I was there, too."
Aaron Wilson is a Pro Football Network reporter and analyst and a contributor to Sports Talk 790.