Even with the injury issues at wide receiver before Will Fuller's season ending knee injury, specifically the odd spate of hamstring injuries suffered by that group (including Fuller before his ACL injury), you could argue that Texans GM Brian Gaine should have been looking for some wide receiver depth via trade. However, when Fuller went down Thursday night with a season-ending ACL injury, the need to maintain weaponry in the AFC arms race was certainly exacerbated.
So as the clock ticked toward yesterday's 3:00 p.m. NFL trade deadline, many names were bandied about, and as the lunch hour hit, rumors of a Texans trade for five time Pro Bowl wideout Demaryius Thomas bubbled up. Happily, with a couple hours to spare, Gaine got the deal done, as the Texans sent a 2019 fourth and seventh round pick to the Denver Broncos for Thomas and a 2019 seventh round pick.
For statistical specifics on Thomas' decorated career, here is the press release from the Texans media relations team:
Thomas, a nine-year NFL veteran, five-time Pro Bowl selection (2012-16) and former Super Bowl Champion (50), has played in 125 games (111 starts) and 10 postseason contests in his career (2010-18). He has compiled 665 receptions for 9,055 receiving yards (13.6 avg.) and 60 receiving touchdowns since being drafted with the 22nd overall pick in the 2010 Draft out of Georgia Tech. Thomas, who is also a two-time Associated Press All-Pro selection (2013-14), finishes his Broncos career as the franchise’s leader in 100-yard receiving games (33) while ranking second in team history in receiving touchdowns, second in receiving yards and third in receptions. This season, Thomas (6-3, 229) has recorded 36 receptions for 402 yards (11.2 avg.) and three touchdowns in eight games with Denver.
Since entering the league in 2010, Thomas ranks third in the NFL in receptions, third in receiving yards and eighth in receiving touchdowns. He has recorded at least 75 receptions and 900 receiving yards in six straight seasons, which is the longest active streak in the NFL, and has played in 115 consecutive regular season games, which is the longest active streak among all NFL wide receivers. He joined Torry Holt (six), Marvin Harrison (five) and Antonio Brown (five) as the only players in NFL history with five consecutive seasons totaling at least 90 receptions and 1,000 receiving yards (2012-16). Thomas, 30, is also one of only four players in the league with at least 6,000 receiving yards and 40 receiving touchdowns since 2013, joining Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins, Steelers WR Antonio Brown and Bengals WR A.J. Green.
Not mentioned in that press release was Thomas' contractual situation, in which the Texans are on the hook for the remainder of his $4,500,000 salary this season, with a non-guaranteed 2019 salary of $14,000,000 on the books for 2019. So with the numbers out of the way, let's get into what this all means for the principals involved.
1. The Texans had no shortage of intel inside of NRG Stadium on Thomas.
By all accounts, Thomas is a great guy and a great teammate, which alone gets him about 80 percent of the way home in Bill O'Brien's book. Fortunately, of all the guys the Texans could have been in on nearing yesterday's deadline, Thomas was probably the easiest on whom to gather intel. Assistant coach Wes Welker is a former teammate of Thomas, and the entire Sports Performance staff, led by Senior Director Luke Richesson, were all in Denver before moving to Houston this past offseason. Culturally, Thomas is an easy fit to project, and the expectation is that he will blend right into what is an ultra cohesive locker room.
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2. The "Deshaun Watson Effect" will be tested once again.
We saw it in his first six starts last season and we've started to see it more consistently during this five game winning streak — Deshaun Watson routinely raises the level of play of every position group on the offensive side of the ball. It was especially evident with Fuller, who scored 11 touchdowns in the 11 games he played with Watson, and was on pace for over 1,000 yards receiving this season. Thomas has seen his overall productivity and yards per catch steadily slide over the last few years — from 1,619 yards and 14.6 per catch in 2014 to 949 yards and 11.4 per catch in 2017 — but the hope here is that he will experience some degree of bounce back playing with Watson, as opposed to the gaggle of QB mediocrity he's been forced to play with since Peyton Manning retired. On the chance that Thomas does have a statistical renaissance with Watson, the Texans will have some interesting work to do on the final year of Thomas' deal. $14 million seems pricy, but a wide receiving corps of DeAndre Hopkins, Thomas, a healthy Fuller, and Coutee in 2019 is fairly mind blowing to think about. I'lm getting ahead of myself, but the future possibilities are fun!
3. It's fortuitous that the Texans actually PLAY the Broncos this weekend.
One ancillary benefit of this trade is that the Texans just so happen to be playing the Broncos this weekend, which helps in two ways. First, I'm sure once they're done giving Thomas his physical today, the Texans coaches will sit him down and supplement the scouting report with whatever intel he can provide. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the message the Broncos received yesterday was that, in at least some small way, their front office is cashing it in on 2018. They willfully got a little worse for 2018 in order to get better sometime down the road. That can't be great for team morale, and for what it's worth, the betting line on the game has moved from Broncos -2.5 to a pick 'em. So the gambling public is far less bullish on Denver than they were Sunday night.
4. I love seeing Brian Gaine making deals.
This idea of NFL teams entertaining and making trades at deadline time in the volume that they did this season is something that had normally been reserved for the NBA and MLB. Seeing NFL teams, from real contenders like the Rams and Eagles to aspiring contenders like the Texans and Redskins, making deals is pretty damn cool. If you're a Texans fan, long term, perhaps the best part of this deal is that it shows that Brian Gaine is willing to play in that draft-equity-for-current-asset space, and that he isn't afraid to make bold moves to make the team better now. Between this Thomas deal, the surprisingly productive rookie class, and the prudent management of the salary cap, I am very enthused about the Brian Gaine Era, thus far.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.