HOUSTON -- Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson lost one No. 1 receiver in March when the team traded DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals. On Monday, he lost another after Will Fuller was suspended for six games after violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances.
The biggest question going forward is how another incomplete season for Fuller affects any potential negotiations for a contract extension.
Before the suspension, he was in the running for a huge deal, potentially in the $14 million to $16 million range per year. And while there still might be a team in the open market this offseason that believes he is worth that type of money, it’s certainly not a slam dunk for anyone considering Fuller to dedicate a long-term deal to him.
Houston is still open to re-signing Fuller, according to sources, although some in the building believe he hasn't answered the questions about his dependability. The 2016 first-round pick has never played a full NFL season, missing 22 games in his first four years because of several injuries. He had played in all 11 games this season, with 53 catches for 879 yards and eight touchdowns. The eight TDs rank sixth among NFL receivers in 2020.
The Texans might try to sign Fuller to an extension at a discount, or they could use the franchise tag on him. Either way, team owner Cal McNair could decide this is a decision for the new general manager Houston hires after the season.
For the final five games of 2020, the Texans (4-7) are losing their top receiver in the midst of a career season, and they also will finish the season without top cornerback Bradley Roby, who was also suspended for taking a banned supplement. While the Texans were still a long shot to run the table and make a potential run to the playoffs with three AFC South games remaining, losing Watson’s top receiver surely eliminated a lot of the momentum the Texans’ offense had built by winning three of their last four games.
One reason why the Texans had such a high asking price for Fuller at the Nov. 3 trade deadline is because they knew there was a chance they could sign him to a contract extension before the end of the season.
Finally, it seemed Fuller was proving his reliability in 2020 and putting up big numbers in the process. He and wide receiver Brandin Cooks were both on pace to finish the season with more than 1,000 yards each, which would have given the Texans two receivers hitting that milestone for the first time in franchise history.
Instead, Fuller again failed to finish a season, this time for reasons other than his health, and it leaves a huge hole at receiver that the Texans will lean on Cooks and Keke Coutee to fill, at least in the short term. The Texans cut veteran receiver Kenny Stills on Monday and slot receiver Randall Cobb will miss at least two more games because of a toe injury.
Fuller and Watson have a clear on-field connection, and the quarterback stood up for his receiver’s impact on the organization after the trade deadline. Through 11 games, Fuller appeared to have answered questions about whether he could stay healthy enough to be a go-to No. 1 receiver in the NFL.
Just as in past years, the production is not in doubt. It’s still his dependability that's a question, although this time it is for more disappointing reasons than another injury.