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Sorry, Texans—Demaryius Thomas Won’t Replace Will Fuller

Houston gave up a fourth-rounder for the former Broncos wideout, but he may be a bigger name than he is an actual contributor at this point in his career

Denver Broncos v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Deal

The Texans have traded a fourth-round pick to Denver for receiver Demaryius Thomas and a seventh-round pick, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The two teams play each other in Denver this week, so Thomas’s first game as a Texan (if he is active) will be a homecoming.

The Texans Are Going for It

Less than a week after the Texans lost receiver Will Fuller to a torn ACL against the Miami Dolphins, they’ve acquired another receiver. Yet while Thomas is coming in after Fuller’s injury, he’s not exactly a cookie-cutter replacement. The nearly 31-year-old Thomas no longer possesses the same skills as Fuller, who averaged 15.7 yards per reception this season (tied for 16th in the league) before his injury and is one of the league’s premier deep threats. Thomas, who has averaged 11.2 yards per reception (tied for 75th in the league), hasn’t looked like the same dynamic threat since Peyton Manning left Denver, and he is likely a bigger name than he is an actual contributor at this point in his career. But with more than $80 million in cap space next year, Houston has more than enough room to take on Thomas’s $14 million 2019 cap hit, and the fourth-rounder is a low-risk gamble on a proven contributor.

Fuller’s injury was a blow to the Texans’ playoff aspirations, but protecting Deshaun Watson should be the next priority for Houston after bolstering his receiving options. Watson is the second-most pressured and second-most sacked quarterback in the NFL, and Houston’s line may be the worst in the league. (A good life rule: protect quarterbacks who throw five for touchdowns with a partially collapsed lung the season after they tear their ACL.) The 5-3 Texans are clearly trying to plug holes in their roster to maintain their two-game lead in the AFC South, but the biggest holes are the ones torn through Houston’s pass protection. Even if Houston wins the AFC South, it likely won’t have any playoff success until Watson is healthy enough to board a plane.

The Broncos Are Pulling Back

John Elway refuses even to say the word “rebuild” (as if the word were “Voldemort”). This trade may not be the start of a rebuild, but it’s certainly a recalculation. The Broncos went back in on making a playoff run this offseason by signing Case Keenum in free agency and eschewing a quarterback in the draft despite possessing a top-five pick, but their 3-5 start in the AFC West already has made the playoffs a difficult hike, and this move may signal that Elway isn’t confident in this team.

If so, parting with Thomas is a logical move. The four-time Pro Bowler had an onerous cap hit that would have hamstrung Denver’s 2019 roster. Now the team has more playing time to give to this year’s 40th overall pick out of SMU, Courtland Sutton (add him in fantasy!), more flexibility next year, and the additional fourth-rounder. The Broncos aren’t rebuilding, but they are retooling.