HOUSTON - It always felt like a matter of when, rather than if for the Houston Texans. Now, Benardrick McKinney will be headed elsewhere.
The Texans are trading the former Pro Bowl linebacker to the Miami Dolphins in exchange for edge defender Shaq Lawson. The two teams also will switch late-round picks in the 2021 NFL Draft; The Texans get a sixth-rounder pick and give a seventh-rounder.
McKinney's time in Houston seemed to be nearing the end following the addition of defensive coordinator Lovie Smith. Since being drafted out of Mississippi State, the 28-year-old linebacker has played in a 3-4 front, pairing with a second off-ball linebacker up the middle.
Smith will transition the Texans to a 4-3 front with a base coverage of Tampa 2 style in 2021.
Lawson, who agreed to a three-year, $30 million deal with the Dolphins last season, never found his footing in Brian Flores' system. The 26-year-old only started in seven games, recording 32 tackles and four sacks.
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During his time with the Buffalo Bills, the transition to Sean McDermott's 4-2-5 system allowed the former first-rounder to regain the confidence as a pass rusher. In three seasons with Buffalo as a defensive end, Lawson tallied at least 30 tackles on the season. In 2019, he posted a career-best in sacks (6.5), tackles for losses (13) and quarterback hits (18).
The Texans were set to owe McKinney roughly $8 million this season on McKinney's five-year $50 million deal. Instead, Houston now will owe Lawson a $7.9 million base salary in 2021 and $8.9 million should he remain on the roster in 2022.
Houston's production at linebacker shouldn't take a big tumble with the departure of McKinney. Earlier this week, the team agreed to terms with former Green Bay Packers linebacker Christian Kirksey on a one-year deal worth $4.25 million.
Houston's defense ranked 32nd against the run in 2020. They also 17th in sacks last season with 34. Houston finished 4-12 on the year.
McKinney will finish his time in Houston with 530 tackles, 14 pass deflections, 11.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and an interception in 80 games. The trade also means that Houston, which does not have picks in the first two rounds, has four picks in the sixth round.