MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The Miami Dolphins can finally play with the team’s new toy Sunday.
Will Fuller, the Dolphins’ biggest free-agent addition this offseason, completed a full week of practice with his new team for the first time since mandatory minicamp back in the summer.
That hints that Fuller appears to be on track to play in Sunday’s road game against the Las Vegas Raiders, which excited everyone associated with the Dolphins.
Fuller missed all of training camp and the preseason because of an undisclosed soft tissue injury. He sat out the season opener because of an NFL imposed suspension, which wrapped up a six-game suspension for PED use that stemmed from his 2020 season with the Houston Texans.
And last week Fuller left the team after practicing once to address what was labeled as a personal issue.
He returned on Monday and had three days of practice with Miami’s offense, and the hope is that he’ll be incorporated into the game plan come Sunday.
The early reviews from Fuller’s teammates haven’t exactly lowered the bar on expectations.
“It doesn’t even look like he’s running. He’s picking up so much ground while he’s out there and moving along. You can’t even tell he’s trying,” fellow receiver Albert Wilson said. “His speed is outstanding, and it’s definitely going to be something we can use in this offense.”
“Outstanding,” you say?
The Dolphins signed Fuller to a one-year incentive-laden deal worth a base of $10.6 million, with an extra $3 million tied to his productivity, hoping that his presence would open up the field for the rest of Miami’s arsenal.
“I got a chance to play against Will Fuller back when I was in their division and a guy with his level of speed is tough,” said free safety Jason McCourty, who began his NFL career with the Tennessee Titans. “We all go through things and the whole 9 [yards], so it’s fun to just see him out here practicing with the guys and smiling and just being able to get acclimated.”
Without Fuller this season, Miami has the NFL’s worst offense in points scored (8.5) and are 24th in total yards per game (237.5). And Miami will be without starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who is sidelined with bruised ribs.
Jacoby Brissett will start Sunday’s game against the Raiders as Tagovailoa’s replacement, and it’s possible he could lead the offense for as much as a month while Tagovailoa’s broken ribs heal.
At least he’ll have all the team’s top receivers at his disposal.
“I think having Will [Fuller] out there will help open things up a little bit more,” said fellow receiver DeVante Parker, who led the Dolphins in receptions the past two seasons. “Looking forward to just have him out there with us.”
Fuller, who received $9 million of his salary in a signing bonus and will be paid a $990,000 salary during the season, can get an additional $1 million to his paycheck if he scores nine or more touchdowns in 2021.
That could be the most difficult of his incentives, considering he’s never scored nine touchdowns in a season.
His career high was eight touchdowns, which was achieved last season in 11 games, before he was suspended six games for PED use. Last season, 11 receivers and three tight ends in the NFL scored nine or more touchdowns.
Parker was the last Dolphins receiver to score eight or more (nine) receiving touchdowns. Now he’s paired with Fuller on the perimeter and Jaylen Waddle working the slot and Mike Gesicki attacking the seam. If everyone can stay healthy, the Dolphins have a receiving corps that could be feared in the NFL.
And that’s the problem. Each of those receivers has struggled to stay on the field during his college and/or professional career.
Fuller has plenty riding on the fact that this could be his year.
Fuller also has $1 million in bonuses tied to receiving yards and another $950,000 tied to his reception total this season. So it benefits him to be productive, consistent and durable.
And it’s not just about this season’s paycheck, considering the 27-year-old gambled on himself, taking a one-year prove it deal with the Dolphins.
He needs to prove that he loves the game and will put in the work to live up to his potential, and his paycheck, which is the fourth highest on the team this season, trailing Waddle and cornerbacks Byron Jones and Xavien Howard.
Fuller is being paid like a playmaker. Let us hope he resembles one for an entire season and doesn’t fall into the free-agent bust category on the ledger.©2021 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Visit sun-sentinel.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.