Without Fuller and with rookie receiver Keke Coutee still recovering from a hamstring injury, the Texans (5-3) simply didn't have enough depth at the position. Although Texans coach Bill O'Brien said the team would first look at internal options -- including whether they could throw the ball more to tight ends or other receivers already on the roster -- he also made a point about the other receivers who could possibly fill in for Fuller, saying, "obviously, if they could do them like Will [Fuller], they would've been out there like Will."
Fuller has been a very important part of the Houston offense, and the numbers show it. In the 11 games quarterback Deshaun Watson and Fuller have played together, they have connected for 11 touchdowns.
The pair's success started last year, in Watson's rookie season. This season, they picked up where they left off as Fuller averaged 11.7 yards per target. According to ESPN Stats & Information, among players averaging six targets per game when Fuller went down, that ranks second in the NFL. According to ESPN's Mike Clay, Fuller had a 22 percent target share (6.3 per game) in his six full games this season for the Texans.
Although Thomas will become the Texans' No. 2 receiver (Coutee will see more time in the slot), he doesn't have the same skill set as the speedy Fuller. Still, he should help take some pressure off DeAndre Hopkins even if he can't spread the field in the way Fuller can.
Thomas got off to a slow start in the Broncos' first two games, but has 36 catches for 402 yards and three touchdowns. He is not the perfect fix but certainly gives Watson another good target.
After Fuller's injury, O'Brien said he and general manager Brian Gaine were going to "explore everything" when looking to replace him. They clearly found the right price in trading for Thomas, for whom Broncos president of football operations John Elway said Tuesday he received calls from "three or four" interested teams before the trade deadline.
Houston gave up a fourth-round pick and swapped seventh-rounders while acquiring Thomas, so they didn't have to raid their early draft picks. Entering the day, Houston had all of its own draft picks, plus an extra selection in the second round, acquired a year ago when trading left tackle Duane Brown. The team will have several holes to fill after not having a first- or second-round pick in 2018.
In comparison, the Eagles traded a third-round pick to the Lions for wide receiver Golden Tate, a high price for a half-year rental player.
The Texans will have a decision to make, made harder if Thomas plays well the rest of the season. He has one year left on his contract and is owed $14 million next season. It's unlikely Houston would keep him at that price, especially with Fuller expected to return around the start of training camp.
Regardless of what decision the Texans make there, trading for Thomas was a necessary move for a Houston team that has won five straight and leads the very winnable AFC South.