With free agency looming, the Texans have to make a decision on Will Fuller

With free agency looming, the Texans have to make a decision on Will Fuller
The Texans could use the franchise tag on Fuller. Composite image by Jack Brame.
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The offseason agenda for the Houston Texans is more than trying to salvage their relationship with Deshaun Watson. But it will remain by far their most important objective. Nick Caserio has a plethora of responsibilities he must take care of in his first few months as Houston's general manager. One of which is deciding what to do with pending free agent, Will Fuller.

Midway through the 2020 season, Fuller was on pace for a career year — amidst his contract season. Pro Football Focus ranked Fuller as the ninth-best receiver in the league (86.2 PPF grade) after recording 879 yards on 53 receptions and eight touchdowns. He was on track to prove he is worth all the $16.9 million of his market value. But more importantly, that he could be the Texans' No. 1 receiver following DeAndre Hopkins' departure.

However, Fuller's season came to a premature end after he violated the NFL's drug policy. The six-game suspension could have a negative effect on his suitors once free agency begins in March. But it appears that the Texans have seen enough to make a long-term commitment to Fuller, according to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

But is it worth it for the Texans to sign Fuller to a long-term deal? That will depend on what will happen with Watson and the Texans in the coming weeks.

Retaining Fuller's services will be a step in the right direction in an attempt to keep Watson in Houston. The two players have developed a close relationship since becoming teammates in 2017. And before his suspension, Fuller was Watson's favorite receiver in the post-Hopkins era with a team-high 75 targets. In November, Watson deemed Fuller's return to the team "very important" after his season came to a halt.

But that was before Watson's relationship with the Texans became estranged. If Watson is not around, it may be best for the Texans and Fuller to go their separate ways. The Texans will enter a full rebuild if Watson is no longer under center in Houston. And his departure would allow the Texans to focus on the development of their younger talent.

"Hopefully, we can get him back," Watson said during his exit interview in January. "I'm definitely going to be on that with the organization and with him. We're all on the same page in what we want to do. And hopefully, we can get him back with (Randall) Cobb and Brandin (Cooks) here and get some other guys, some other pieces that can help us out and we can really take another step, especially offensively."

One position that could benefit from a player development movement is Houston's receiving corps. The Texans have a good mix of veterans and young talent at the position. And entering the 2021 season with the most potential is Keke Coutee.

No longer trapped in Bill O'Brien's doghouse, Coutee took advantage of the playing time he received in Fuller's absence. He was significant in filling in the void, as he registered 362 yards on 27 catches during the final five games of the season. Coutee's performance was a glimpse of what he is capable of when given suitable snaps. And the arrival of Robert Prince as Houston's new wide receiving coach could help Coutee reach his full potential. But if Fuller remains on the roster, the crowded rotation could hinder Coutee's progress due to the lack of playing time.

Fuller is a risk factor for any team interested in signing him. Injuries have prevented Fuller from playing a full season on several occasions — missing 21 out of a possible 51 games between 2017-2019.

In 2017, a broken collarbone suffered during training camp sidelined Fuller for the first few games of the season. In 2018, Fuller appeared in seven games before an ACL tear prematurely ended his season. And in 2019, a reoccurring hamstring injury kept Fuller in and out of the lineup. Fuller said he made adjustments to his offseason training in an attempt to stay healthy this season. And he appeared in all 11 games before his suspension. However, it's hard to determine what impact the illegal substances had on Fuller's durability.

There is too much at stake for the Texans to commit close to $70.0 million over the next four years to Fuller — especially if Watson is no longer around. But given the questionable state of the franchise, does Fuller even want to remain a Texan? In addition to their disgruntled quarterback, over half the team wants out of Houston due to their concerns about the direction of the organization. Including Fuller, a source told SportsMap.

As of now, it is unsure what lengths Fuller will go to depart from the organization. He does not have the leverage as that of Watson. But his concerns about the future of the team may cost the Texans extra money to keep him happy in Houston. Deciding whether Fuller is worth keeping on a max contract would be Caserio's top priority in an ordinary offseason. But much like the world fighting through a global pandemic in 2021, the Texans are in unprecedented times as a franchise.

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The Astros rotation looks like a strength moving forward. Composite Getty Image.

The Houston Astros are coming off a much-needed series win over the White Sox, but have a quick turnaround as they host the Orioles on Friday night at Minute Maid Park.

The 'Stros dropped the first game of the series with Framber Valdez on the mound, but were able to rebound with Hunter Brown and Spencer Arrighetti starting the final two games.

Brown was brilliant once again, and Arrighetti bounced back after a disastrous start against the Tigers over the weekend. Despite all the injures to the Astros staff this season, their young pitchers are stepping up when they need them the most.

Brown has six consecutive quality starts and is beginning to show signs that he can be the top of the rotation pitcher the club always hoped he could develop into.

Arrighetti has stepped in and shown that he belongs in the big leagues, and has provided innings Houston desperately requires with so many pitchers on the injured list.

Speaking of which, with Justin Verlander on the IL, Double A prospect Jake Bloss will make the start for Houston on Friday night. Bloss has quickly progressed through the farm system, having been drafted just a year ago.

We'll see how he performs in his MLB debut, but the club seems to have a lot of quality pitching options moving forward, especially with Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers scheduled to return in late July and early August respectively.

And as we look at the Astros rotation moving forward, perhaps they will go back to a six-man rotation during certain stretches in the second half of the season.

Which could prove to be vital to the team's success. As good as Ronel Blanco has been, he's never pitched as many innings as he'll be asked to pitch this year. Same goes for Arrighetti. And let's face it, sending Verlander out to pitch on four days rest consistently at 41 years old doesn't sound like a wise decision. He's already been on the IL twice this year.

While some see Garcia and McCullers as wild cards to help the team this season, Astros GM Dana Brown doesn't see it that way. He told the Astros flagship station this week that he's counting on those guys to make big contributions when they return. And he's counting on their postseason experience should they get there.

Keep in mind, Garcia has a 3.61 career ERA and has been durable outside the Tommy John surgery. And McCullers has always been good, it's just the health that causes concern.

Garcia is also an example of how a player can skip Double A and Triple A and have success right away in the big leagues. Hopefully, Bloss can follow in his footsteps, since he's bypassing Triple A to make his first start.

So what's the short and long-term outlook for the Astros rotation? And should we expect Verlander to return in 2025?

Be sure to watch the video above as we address those questions and much more!

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