Wide receiver Will Fuller V had his best game of the season -- in a year full of very impressive performances -- on Thanksgiving against the Detroit Lions, adding six catches for 171 yards and two touchdowns to his impressive 2020 totals. Through 11 games, Fuller has more receiving yards and touchdowns than Hopkins had for the Texans at this point last season.
In addition, Brandin Cooks has 52 catches for 719 yards and three touchdowns and has been a consistent target for quarterback Deshaun Watson after Houston acquired Cooks from the Los Angeles Rams for a second-round draft pick in April.
“I think we complement each other a lot,” Fuller said of himself and Cooks as a receiving duo. “We both have great speed. We both can run routes. I feel like we both put fear in DBs' hearts. With the speed, that’s the one thing -- you really don’t want to get beat deep. So we take that and we use it to our advantage.”
The Texans drafted Fuller in 2016 to give themselves another strong receiver alongside Hopkins, but Fuller couldn’t stay healthy and Houston struggled with depth at the position when he was out. Now, with Cooks and Fuller playing in all 11 of the Texans’ games so far, Houston has a dynamic passing game. It hasn't translated into many wins because, well, the rest of the team is not very good.
Since Cooks broke out in Week 5 against the Jacksonville Jaguars with eight catches for 161 yards, Watson is playing some of the best football of his career. In the six weeks after that game against Jacksonville, Watson has completed 70.5% of his passes for 1,750 yards, 16 total touchdowns and no turnovers.
Fuller is playing this season on his fifth-year option, and it’s not a shock that no extension was agreed to because of his injury history. Since Watson was drafted in 2017, he and Fuller have excelled when the receiver was on the field. But because Fuller has missed 22 games in his career with a multitude of injuries, they hadn't built that consistency. Until this season.
After the Texans’ victory on Thanksgiving, Fuller said, “It’s almost the end of the season and I feel great. I feel like I’m getting better.”
The difficulty of keeping Fuller is, of course, the salary cap. If Fuller signs a contract worth $15 million per season, that would mean the Texans would be paying three receivers (Fuller, Cooks and Randall Cobb) more than a combined $37.6 million in 2021.
Cooks has three years left on his contract and is owed $12 million in 2021, $13 million in 2022 and $14 million in 2023, although he doesn’t have any more money guaranteed after this season.
If the Texans can work to sign Fuller to a contract extension before the end of the season, they could also help their salary cap by signing Cooks to a new deal that includes guaranteed money and drops his cap hit.
Although the Texans signed Watson and left tackle Laremy Tunsil to huge contract extensions this offseason, Houston still has one more season before Watson’s cap number rises above $40 million, thus taking away a lot of the team’s financial flexibility.
If Houston can get those two deals done before the end of the season, it will put the team in position to rebound from a poor season and take advantage of the chemistry that their star quarterback has with the pair of pass-catchers.
Most importantly, it would tie Cooks, Fuller and Watson to the Texans for the foreseeable future. While there are questions in the running game and on the offensive line, committing to Fuller and Cooks long term would give Watson stability in the passing game.
“Those two guys, they are more of a 'let them go run and get it,'” Watson said of Cooks and Fuller. “... That’s why with that Duke [Johnson] ball with Will [Fuller], I just let it ride. Put it in the back of the end zone and let him go make the play. And same with Cookie [Cooks], too. Both of those guys are special, and I love playing with both of those guys.”