Stay or go? Will Fuller, Zach Fulton among Texans' tougher calls

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HOUSTON -- Bill O'Brien is expected to be busy this offseason as coach and general manager for the Houston Texans.

Aside from the contract extensions the Texans are expected to give quarterback Deshaun Watson and left tackle Laremy Tunsil, Houston could chase free-agent cornerbacks after there was a lot of turnover at the position in the past year. They could also sign linebacker Zach Cunningham, a 2017 second-round pick, to a new deal.

To make those moves, Houston likely will want more than the $60 million of cap space it currently has available.

The Texans already took a step toward cutting their salary when they released cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III on Feb. 14. The cornerback was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who cut him in November after already picking up his fifth-year option, worth $9.6 million.

The Texans still could bring Hargreaves back on a multiyear deal with a lower cap hit, but by cutting him before the start of the league year, there was no dead money on the contract because the option is guaranteed for injury only.

Here's a look at four players the Texans will have to make decisions about this offseason and a prediction about whether they will stay or go:

Will Fuller, wide receiver

2019 stats: 49 catches for 670 yards and three touchdowns in 11 games

2020 salary: $10.1 million ($0 guaranteed); $10.1 million cap savings if released/traded; no dead money if released/traded

There's no doubt Fuller makes the Texans' offense better when he is on the field. But he hasn't been able to stay there. In his first four NFL seasons since Houston drafted Fuller with the No. 21 pick, the wide receiver has missed 22 of 64 regular-season games to injury. O'Brien has praised Fuller's speed and the way he changes the game for the offense while saying his availability has been a problem.

During the 2019 regular season with Fuller on the field, the Texans averaged 296.8 passing yards per game, per ESPN Stats & Information. That average was nearly cut in half without him: 158.3 passing yards per game.

After Houston's playoff loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, Fuller reiterated the goal he set since his rookie year: play in all 16 regular-season games for the first time.

"I just need to find someone that's good at what they do so they can help me out, figure out my body and everything I can do from the inside out," Fuller said.

O'Brien and the Texans might not know whether they can trust Fuller long term, but his impact is big enough while healthy that they should give him one more chance to show he can stay on the field.

Verdict: Stay on fifth-year option

Zach Fulton, guard

2019 stats: Started 15 games during regular season; ranked 60th out of 81 eligible guards by Pro Football Focus

2020 salary: $7 million ($0 guaranteed); $7 million cap savings if released/traded; no dead money if released/traded

It might not make sense to keep Fulton under contract and pay him the $7 million, because Houston could either choose to rely on guard/center Greg Mancz or decide to draft another guard to play across from Max Scharping, a second-round pick in 2019. Fulton is likely to be a starter for someone next season, but his price tag (a four-year, $28 million deal with two years remaining) might mean that place is not Houston.

Verdict: Go

Senio Kelemete, guard

2019 stats: Kelemete started one game and was put on injured reserve in September

2020 salary: $4 million (none guaranteed); $3.25 million cap savings if released/traded; $750,000 in dead money if released/traded

Kelemete played in 15 games in his first season in Houston, starting 14 at left guard, after signing a three-year, $12 million contract in 2018, but probably doesn't have a spot on the team in 2020. Cutting Kelemete, who was not a lock to make the team last season, would free up money at a position where Houston has some flexibility.

Certainly, the Texans need to protect Watson beyond just Tunsil and 2019 first-round pick Tytus Howard, but the money owed to Kelemete doesn't fit in their budget.

Verdict: Go

Angelo Blackson, defensive end

2019 stats: 11 tackles

2020 salary: $4 million (none guaranteed); $4 million cap savings if released/traded; no dead money if released/traded

Brandon Dunn might be the only member of the Houston Lunch Pail Crew other than Carlos Watkins who returns to Houston after he signed a new contract earlier in the month. Nose tackle D.J. Reader is a free agent, and the Texans would be able to save $8 million over the next two seasons by cutting Blackson.

O'Brien might prefer the depth to keep Blackson -- he played 40% of the Texans' defensive snaps in 2019 -- but if Houston is looking for a place to cut spending, this could be the position.

Verdict: Go