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BRB GroupThink: Will Fuller’s Future In Houston

What should Houston do with Will Fuller this offseason?

NFL: Houston Texans at Detroit Lions Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Will Fuller can never play a full season. Even when he’s healthy, he ends up accidentally getting suspended six games. If it isn’t the hamstring or the ACL, it’s an anabolic agent.

Houston did manage to get manage to get ten games out of Fuller this year. In those ten games, he caught 53 passes on 75 targets for 879 yards and 8 touchdowns. Oh, and he was also first in DYAR and second in DVOA. In his first season without being opposite DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller was productive and efficient. He was everything.

After this season, Fuller will be an unrestricted free agent. The Texans are going to have to make a decision. They can franchise tag him, sign him to a long-term extension, or let him walk to a different franchise. On this week’s GroupThink,I asked the masthead what Houston should do with Fuller next offseason. These were their answers:

DIEHARD CHRIS:

When we did this experiment in the offseason, I was all about the Texans letting him walk, mainly due to his inability to stay healthy. By midseason 2020, I had come around to the thinking that the Watson + Fuller combo was so deadly that you have to take a chance going forward that Fuller will stay healthy and form a lethal combo with Deshaun for years to come - especially after recovering from his injuries last year and showing he had not lost any of his speed.

Well, now it’s just too much for me to buy into. I’m by no means an expert on how PEDs affect specific parts of an athlete’s game, but Fuller has been SO GOOD this year, healthy, and a legit No. 1 receiver. It’s just too much of a coincidence with the PED suspension (and oh my, during a contract year? Ya don’t say??).

All that said, depending on how Houston manages the cap this offseason, I would seriously consider slapping the franchise tag on Will to see how he bounces back next season and hope he’s not doping again. If he repeats his 2020 performance, minus the drug suspension, sign him long-term.

MATT WESTON:

I still don’t fully buy the idea that Fuller is a WR1. To me, a WR1 is a player who can carry an entire passing offense on his own and consistently move the chains. I didn’t see that from Fuller this year. He’s an insane deep threat, a near impossibility to cover, perfect for shredding teams ten-plus yards down the field, but he still isn’t a consistent, offense-carrying presence. Because of this, the leg injuries, and the hilarious and mysterious suspension, JINKIES, I don’t think he’s worth signing to a five-year $60 million (or something in that ballpark) contract.

Instead, I’d want to see Fuller do it all over again. I’d franchise tag him and pay him the $14-$17 million the tag will command in 2021. See if he can stay healthy. See how the new offensive coordinator can utilize him. I’d cut Brandin Cooks and David Johnson. From there, sign a veteran outside wide receiver like Breshad Perriman or Robbie Anderson, two nice bargain finds from last year’s free agency group. Make Keke Coutee an integral part of the offense under the new coach, and giddyup from there.

MIKE BULLOCK:

Based on the current cap situation, if I was the incoming Texans general manager, the Franchise Tag wouldn’t come into play for anyone.

With Fuller approaching free agency, already rife with questions that would keep a team from paying him the average of the top five wideouts due to his injury history, his contract leverage is suspect. Fuller’s market value is much lower than he might think.

As the incoming general manager, I’d try to sign him to a long-term, incentive-laden deal fully expecting him to take a hometown discount simply because he’s worth more to Deshaun Watson than he is to any of the other 31 teams at this stage.

CARLOS FLORES:

The franchise tag is a hard pass for me. Sure, we’d be able to retain his services for another year, but the pay would be higher than he’s really worth. The lack of early draft picks in this draft stings just a little bit worse than before.

I’m inclined to agree with Mike in attempting to sign him to an extension with a bunch of incentives. After a suspension for something like this, it’ll have to weigh on the mind of any GM looking to acquire Fuller. Maybe his stock has fallen far enough for him to be affordable.

Deshaun Watson gets what Deshaun Watson wants, so the Texans should at least make an attempt to retain him.

JOE CRITZ:

This is such a difficult question to answer because I love Will Fuller and believe him to be one of the most underrated receivers in the league right now, but his injury history and his price tag may just be too much for the Texans to take on.

I know there’s some controversy onto how much Fuller can demand in free agency, but I believe that if a player has game changing talent (which he has) in addition to being a starting caliber player as his position (which he is), teams will be willing to give up a lot to get him. Players like Robbie Anderson, Adam Humphries, and Brandin Cooks are good examples, players that are above-average at their position and are talented enough to demand a nice paycheck. Fuller is certainly better than all of them, so he will demand even more.

I certainly believe he is worth keeping around since players with that speed and ability rarely last into the later rounds of the draft, sometimes don’t even work out when taken high (John Ross), and his talents gel with Deshaun Watson’s play style. So giving him up would mean we would have to change our offense until we find a replacement Will Fuller, which is highly unlikely for at least the next year or two. Brandin Cooks could take his spot if we were desperate, but there’s a reason Will Fuller absorbed most of the targets when Watson was throwing downfield.

The Texans wouldn’t be able to secure him if he hits free agency, so it’s either you franchise tag him or give him an extension in the next couple of months. Unfortunately, the only sort of extension of his we could afford would be a 1 or 2 year deal worth under $10 million a year, which is something he probably won’t accept unless he thinks another year with Watson can cement his status as the free-agent Tyreek Hill. It’s all but certain to me that he will get offered a massive contract by some team in need of a deep threat, so you can only hope you can convince him to stick around Houston another year. If we had the money (or cut Cobb and David Johnson), I’d consider it worth taking a stab at a genuine extension, but since we don’t, a short term contract is the best we can do.

BIGFATDRUNK:

Once again, it’s hard to overstate just how much damage Bill O’Brien and Rasputin Easterby have done to this organization.

In just about any alternative universe, the Texans have more than enough room to take the gamble and sign Will Fuller, even if that meant accepting the risk that his injury history would be more like the past than this year, the year when he was caught taking PEDs.

Alas, like drunken sailors buying magic beans, we re-signed a bunch of tough, smart, and dependable players, none of whom were worth it (aside from possibly Zach Cunningham).

All things considered, unless Will Fuller takes a big discount, this will be his last season as a Texan. We can’t afford him, and with so many teams drowning in cap space, somebody is going to pay the man.

Thanks, BOB and Rasputin!

What say you? Franchise tag, long-term extension, or let Will Fuller V walk in free agency?