A DeAndre Hopkins trade rumor surfaced Tuesday with the report saying that the Cardinals plan to try and trade the star this offseason.
This is a happy development for WR-needy teams. The explosion in demand for quality wide receivers last offseason had one important byproduct. It absolutely gutted the available options for teams looking for receiver help in 2023.
Right now the best options in our Top 100 – 2023 Free Agents list are guys like Patriots WR Jakobi Meyers and Chiefs WRs Michael Hardman and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Decent players, but not big-time wideouts. This year’s draft class also looks like it could be a slight letdown from the quality we’ve become accustomed to seeing the past few years. The Bears admitted this is why they traded what ended up being the No. 32 overall pick for WR Chase Claypool. At the time, they thought that it looked like their best option.
Hopkins will turn 31 in June and reportedly wants an updated contract, which Arizona seems reluctant to do as they hit the reset button. Another team in a more open window of contention would be a better fit, including from Hopkins’ perspective as he tries to chase a ring.
While there are mitigating factors that will prevent the Cardinals from getting a first-round pick back, like his age and scheduled $19.45 million base salary for 2023, Hopkins looked like he still had plenty in the tank this past season. The Cardinals could still get something similar to what the Texans got when they traded Hopkins in 2020, which was a second-round pick, fourth-round pick and RB David Johnson. The Cardinals would take on $22.6 million of dead money and create $8.15 million of cap space by trading him.
Hopkins has a no-trade clause which means he can control his destination. Although his base salary is high, cap space isn’t as much of a concern because the extension Hopkins is seeking would likely lower his 2023 cap hit. So we can narrow down the potential trade destinations to teams Hopkins would find appealing, likely with quality coaching, quarterback play and a chance to win a Super Bowl.
With that in mind, five teams stand out:
The obvious headliner here would be a reunion between Hopkins and his former Texans QB Deshaun Watson. That would undoubtedly make Cleveland attractive from Hopkins’ perspective, and there’s a lot of talent on this team to where they “should” be Super Bowl contenders going into 2023.
The Browns don’t need a wide receiver if they’re going to run the same HC offense Kevin Stefanski has operated for most of his career, which is run-heavy and prominently uses multi-tight end sets. There’s a question of whether that’s the best offense for a quarterback like Watson, though, and those two figure to spend a chunk of this offseason working out how the Browns’ offense should evolve in 2023. If they decide to open things up, they need more than just Amari Cooper, who was terrific as the No. 1 option this past season.
A DeAndre Hopkins trade would give the Browns a strong 1A/1B situation at receiver between him and Cooper, pushing Donovan Peoples-Jones and 2021 third-rounder David Bell to complementary roles that might be better fits at this point in their careers. Hopkins would also bring a level of reliability that was missing at times from Cleveland’s skill positions.
In terms of cost, the Browns could easily bring on Hopkins’ salary. They’re set to roll over $30 million in cap space from this year and can free up another enormous chunk by restructuring the money they’ve already committed to paying Watson. They don’t have a first-round pick in 2023, so giving up one of their second or third-round picks would be less than ideal. For an impact player like Hopkins, though, a strong case can be made that it would be worth it.
There’s some buzz that Jacksonville is one of the landing spots high on Hopkins’ list, and that’s understandable considering the upward trajectory the franchise appears to be on. New HC Doug Pederson and QB Trevor Lawrence have the team in the playoffs for the first time since 2017, and their success seems much more sustainable.
Jacksonville pursuing a DeAndre Hopkins trade figures to be appealing for them as well. The playbook several teams have followed in recent seasons with a lot of success is to get bonafide No. 1 receivers to accelerate their young quarterback’s development. The Jaguars aren’t hurting at receiver with Christian Kirk, Zay Jones and Calvin Ridley in the fold for 2023, plus TE Evan Engram if they’re able to bring him back. But none of them are the matchup weapon Hopkins is, even on the potential back end of his career.
The Jaguars don’t have a ton of cap flexibility and have already invested significantly in the offensive skill positions, so that’s an obstacle they’d have to negotiate to bring in Hopkins. Does it make more sense to dedicate the money and picks it would cost to acquire Hopkins in improving the secondary or offensive line? It’s a good question, and a debate the Jaguars’ brass is likely going to have in the coming weeks.
New England Patriots
There is a lot of mutual respect between Hopkins and Patriots HC Bill Belichick, which was caught on camera when the two teams played each other earlier this season and the two men had a moment before the game. It’s not clear how Hopkins feels about Patriots QB Mac Jones but not too long ago Jones was seen as a potential rising player.
Getting a player like Hopkins in the fold could help Jones get back on track after a rough 2022 season. New England hasn’t had a true No. 1 receiver in a long time and Hopkins’ ability to go up and win one-on-one matchups would be a great fit for Jones’ game at this point.
From a cost standpoint, the Patriots do have plenty of cap space available to accommodate Hopkins’ request for a new deal. Belichick isn’t usually a big spender, but Hopkins might be the kind of player he makes an exception for, depending on what the veteran wants. Odds are Hopkins would offer more of an immediate impact than any player the Patriots could draft in the second or third rounds as well.
New York Giants
There might not be another team with as glaring a hole at wide receiver as the Giants. Their current 2023 receiving corps includes Kenny Golladay (who will be cut), 2021 second-rounder Wan’Dale Robinson coming off a torn ACL, Collin Johnson and pending ERFA Isaiah Hodgins. Maybe Sterling Shepard and Richie James come back, but regardless, major upgrades are needed.
Hopkins would fit that bill. Although the Giants are still technically a rebuilding squad despite their unexpected success this past season, they need to improve the weapons around QB Daniel Jones to see if he can take another step forward in his game and cement himself as the team’s long-term starter. In that regard, a DeAndre Hopkins trade is a fit, given that he would be the best receiver available, as long as he wants to come to New York.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers are the other team that’s been rumored to be on Hopkins’ wish list, and that makes sense considering their location and the presence of QB Justin Herbert. What’s not as clear is whether the Chargers will consider themselves a fit for a DeAndre Hopkins trade.
Although Los Angeles could use an upgrade to its receiving corps, they already have one of the slowest skill position groups in the NFL. Hopkins is great but he doesn’t fix that issue. Spending a draft pick on a speedster or going after someone like Hardman from the Chiefs, Patriots WR Nelson Agholor or even Seahawks WR Marquise Goodwin are more cost-effective options that better complement the existing duo of Keenan Allen and Mike Williams.
Cost will also be an issue for the Chargers. The organization has been philosophically opposed to trading away draft picks until the deal to acquire OLB Khalil Mack this offseason, and that remains the only time GM Tom Telesco has deviated from that approach. Los Angeles also ranks near the bottom in projected effective cap space available in 2023 and has to budget for an enormous Herbert extension that will likely be signed at some point this summer.
If the Chargers moved on from Allen, who is due $19 million in 2023 and could save $14.8 million against the cap if traded or released, then a move for Hopkins might make more sense. Allen is another veteran receiver worth watching independently this offseason for that reason. For now, though, my hunch is that the Chargers will go in a different direction than Hopkins this offseason.
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