While we toil through the worst offseason in Houston Texans history, the front office should be hard at work fixing the mess they’ve created. New general manager Nick Caserio and new head coach David Culley didn’t light this dumpster fire; their buddy Jack Easterby did. However, Caserio and Culley need to work 24/7 to extinguish it.
By announcing Tim Kelly would stay on as offensive coordinator, they checked off one of Deshaun Watson’s boxes. Once Kelly was out of former head coach Bill O’Brien’s shadow, the Houston offense opened up considerably. Just for reference, under Bill O’Brien, the Texans’ offense averaged under 24 points per game. Over the last three games of 2020 under Tim Kelly, the average jumped to 29.7 points per game, which was sixth best in the NFL for those keeping score at home.
With Watson leading the league in nearly every major QB statistical category last season despite getting barely any help from the rest of the team, it’s a no-brainer to keep the phenom quarterback and offensive coordinator Kelly connected.
PFF’s Seth Galina put things into perspective with this glowing article in which he argued that Deshaun Watson just posted the best season by an NFL quarterback in at least the last 15 years.
As much as we all try to separate the performances of different positions from their teammates in order to isolate production, players with stronger surroundings will always fare better than those without.
Of course, both signal-callers played on teams that allowed them to showcase their talents. Brady’s Buccaneers happened to boast a top-five defense to continually keep him ahead of the game in terms of field position and game state. Plus, he had the best receiving corps in the league.
Rodgers was given opportunities to find open receivers via Matt LaFleur’s wide-zone and play-action scheme, and he had arguably the best receiver in the league in Davante Adams. It’s hard to go back and look through the list of the great quarterback seasons of the past 15 years and find examples where quarterbacks did not have other elite factors going in their favor.
That’s why I’m ready to make the argument that Deshaun Watson was not only the best quarterback of 2020, but also that he had the best season of the past 15 years — and maybe ever.
So what’s next on the offensive to-do list?
The Texans Need to bring back Will Fuller V.
While the speedster has plenty of questions marks, having never completed a full season and most recently losing out on the end of the year due to a suspension over a banned substance, Fuller still had a major impact on Houston’s offense in 2020.
Over the course of 11 games, Watson targeted Fuller 75 times for 53 completions, 879 yards, a whopping 16.6 yards per catch average, and 8 touchdowns. Playing that out, Fuller would have hit 1,278 yards if his pharmaceutical regimen hadn’t run out of bounds. Keeping Watson and Kelly’s passing offense together, including Fuller, is one of the only holdovers from 2020 that makes sense.
Brandin Cooks had a great year and came out a while back stating he wanted to stay with the Texans. Once he got his feet under him, Cooks caught 81 passes on 119 targets for 1,150 yards, good for a 14.2 yard per catch average and 6 touchdowns. Based on the stats alone, keeping Cooks and Fuller V in the mix for Deshaun Watson is another no-brainer.
Now that the Texans are under the salary cap with J.J. Watt off the books, a few more moves should free up considerable space. According to Spotrac, the 2021 NFL salary cap is estimated to be $185 million. The Texans currently have $10,272,133 worth of space. Once they release David Johnson, that number will jump to $19,084,633.
The Texans won’t be the only franchise that wants Fuller in their uniform, though.
Prediction: Packers sign Fuller for five years, $87.5 million ($17.5M APY): $25 million signing bonus (generally all the Packers guarantee).
Houston can match and/or beat that deal, though it will eat into Houston’s cap number significantly. The Texans can free up another $12.25 million by trading and/or releasing Benardrick McKinney and Zach Fulton. While losing McKinney will hurt, Caserio should have already released Fulton. By moving on from those two, the Texans’ cap space jumps to roughly $31.75 million.
Sure, the Texans will need to do a LOT to rebuild their defense, especially with the loss of J.J. Watt, a player you simply don’t replace. Keeping Deshaun Watson is Job One. Re-signing Will Fuller V is a step in the right direction to making Watson happy and productive. It has to be done.