As the Texans' 2020 offseason has evolved over the last several weeks, it seems like one of the moves everyone had been waiting for was the release of veteran right guard Zach Fulton, who had two years and a non-guaranteed total of $14 million remaining on his deal. At the very least, letting Fulton go would be an easy way to clear up some salary cap space.
However, the Texans did what was an unexpected pivot with Fulton on Friday, restructuring his deal as follows:
The Texans & starting RG Zach Fulton have agreed to a reworked contract, per source. Fulton was due $14M over the next two years with no guarantees, but is now due $5M (guaranteed) this season & $3M (non-guaranteed) in 2021. Fulton gets nice security, Houston gets cap relief.— Field Yates (@FieldYates) May 29, 2020
Maybe Fulton's return was foreshadowed during offensive coordinator Tim Kelly's media session last week, when he said the following:
"As far as the offensive line, I believe – you guys can correct me if I'm wrong – but I believe it's the first time that we've had all five starters back since we've been here. That position especially, there's a lot of chemistry that goes into that position of playing next to one another, how certain people are going to handle certain blocks and how it's going to feel and the different responses and reactions that you'll get. I'm sure Coach Dev (Mike Devlin) will be able to get into that in depth with you, but having all five of those guys back is vital. It's a good thing and it's something that we're definitely excited for."
So Kelly is happy! Meanwhile, here are a few more thoughts on this deal:
The Warford sweepstakes are over for the Texans
Earlier this month, the New Orleans Saints moved on from three time Pro Bowl guard Larry Warford, largely due to his upcoming $13 million cap hit not matching up with his commitment to conditioning. Still, even a distressed version of Warford is probably a superior talent to Fulton, so the Texans had been one of the teams reportedly kicking tires on thinking about bringing him in. Conveniently enough, he is reportedly looking for around $7 million or so per year, which would have made for a convenient swap out with Fulton, whose 2020 cap hit was set to be $7 million before the adjustment on Friday. So either Warford moved on from the Texans, or the Texans moved on from Warford, but either way, it's safe to say Warford will not be coming to Houston.
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Good job by Bill O'Brien arranging this deal
As much grief as we give Bill O'Brien for the litany of questionable (and sometimes infuriating) moves he's made this offseason, we must give credit where credit is due. I think getting Fulton to knock his salary down by $2 million this coming season, and $4 million in 2021, while only guaranteeing this coming season, is a pretty nice move. You open up some cap space (which they will need BADLY soon, more on that in a minute), and if Fulton plays at a serviceable level, then you have him locked in on a team friendly, non-guaranteed deal for 2021. I don't have a big problem with them guaranteeing his $5 million salary in 2020, because if you're bringing him back, it's clearly to start, and if he's healthy by the end of training camp, his salary becomes guaranteed anyway.
Is this the beginning of more cap cutting moves?
We all know that the gigantic contractual cloud that hangs over everything the Texans do over the next few months is the likely record-setting extension that quarterback Deshaun Watson will sign. The Texans are definitely going to need to do some maneuvering to all of a sudden fit Watson's deal into the puzzle. You could argue that trading DeAndre Hopkins was the first of just that kind of move. Hell, O'Brien all but said it when he said that it's almost impossible to have an elite QB, an elite left tackle, an elite defensive end, and still pay Hopkins. There are a few other players with non guaranteed deals that could get released, pay cut, or traded. Kenny Stills ($7 million) and Angelo Blackson ($4 million) would seem to top that list.
Hey, continuity baby!
At the end of the day, what do the Texans gain by retaining Fulton at this reduced price? The answer is simple: continuity along the offensive line. As Kelly stated in the quote outlined above, this is a luxury the Texans haven't had at any time during the O'Brien Era, mostly because this is the first group since the 2014 bunch where it's even worth bringing the collective unit back. Having the same five guys, especially with two of them (Max Scharping, Tytus Howard) coming off promising rookie seasons and now Laremy Tunsil getting some semblance of a training camp (hopefully) with the team, makes the offensive line the fulcrum (well them, and Deshaun Watson) of what is hopefully an improved offense in 2020.