The NFL’s worst kept secret is out. Not only is Deandre Hopkins available, he now comes without a huge contract that will need to be manoeuvred under the salary cap. Of course, Hopkins will command a high salary, but the contract can be tailored to suit if there is a place that he wants to go. Presumably with a team that he thinks he can win with.
The Cardinals mismanaged the situation within an inch of their lives but for now it is time to look at where the All Pro receiver could end up.
Before we start, it is worth noting a couple of dings that will impact Hopkins’ value. He has missed a full season (17 games) over the last two years through injury and a PED suspension. Before 2021 though, Hopkins played and started in all but two games in his career.
Here are is potential suitors:
Detroit needed a receiver even before Jameson Williams got his suspension to start the year. Amon-Ra St Brown and Marvin Jones lead the line in the meantime, supported by Josh Reynolds. The Lions have $23.7M in cap space, fourth most in the league. More importantly, they are an upwardly mobile team under Dan Campbell, who are maximising Jared Goff’s potential. Hopkins could really improve Detroit, a challenger in a wide open division within a fairly wide open conference. The sky really is the limit.
The Bears were officially the worst team in the league last year. They also have the most cap space in the league, with $32.6M. Having already added D.J. Moore in the trade for the first overall pick to pair with Chase Claypool and another St. Brown brother, Equanimeous, they are improving their weapons around Justin Fields. But more can be added to the unit.
Hopkins will be used to playing with a mobile QB and is well placed to get the most out of Justin Fields if he sees potential in Chicago in a division that is up for grabs.
LA added Quentin Johnston in the draft but some additional depth at receiver would be beneficial, especially with Keenan Allen’s recent injury history. Another dominant receiver would make the Chargers a real threat in the AFC.
The Chargers have the funds to make the move ($12.7M) and Justin Herbert was one of the QBs that Hopkins mentioned that he was happy to play with in an interview that led to his release.
Carolina may have drafted first overall but in reality there were eight worse teams in 2022. The Panthers are another team with lots of cap room ($28M) and owner David Tepper loves to make a splash.
Having traded D.J. Moore, the receiving options are pretty bare. Bringing in one of the saftest pair of hands in the NFL would be a real coup, and help the development of rookie Bryce Young. Playing in the weakest division in the NFL is definitely a perk. The trouble is convincing Hopkins that the Panthers are on a winning trajectory.
Gone is the lure of playing with Aaron Rodgers. Gone isn’t the Packers’ need for a receiver. Christian Watson leads a unit that will likely include at least three rookies. The Packers have $16.5M in cap space and realistically need to make a move to support Jordan Love, especially if Green Bay want to avoid 2023 being a rebuild year. They also need to understand if Love is the medium to longer term future of the franchise. Love has barely played so far in the NFL and much like the Jets did in 2022, the Packers need to give their young QB all the weapons he needs before passing a final judgement.
The Pats looked to trade for Hopkins earlier this year. Bill Belichick has previously spoken about his admiration of him. Much like the Packers, the Patriots need a top class receiver to help in their evaluation of Mac Jones long term. What’s more, Hopkins could be exactly the sort of weapon that the Pats need. He can help to springboard back into the playoff conversation in the AFC. It may take some persuasion from the front office but now New England have the cap space ($14M) to make it happen.
There are two outside bets to land Deandre Hopkins. If he is looking to win a ring, which you have to assume is part of the reason for his release, rather than trade, then entering the arms race in the AFC is not a bad place to be. The Chiefs and Bills would both happily add a reliable, superstar receive. That would supplement their current pass-catching options and rival the Bengals’ firepower. However, they have the second and third-lowest cap space respectively. It will take some creative accounting and roster building but pairing a receiver of Hopkins’ calibre with Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen may be too good an opportunity to turn down.
What’s more, both were name-checked by Hopkins in that interview, signalling his seal of approval. Under his contract with the Cardinals, there was no chance. It will still be a challenge to get Hopkins under the cap in Kansas City or Buffalo. But it is more achievable.
Image: Michael Chow/Arizona Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK
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