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.

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 suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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