One of the best wide receivers of the last decade could be on the move.
The Arizona Cardinals will look to trade five-time Pro Bowler DeAndre Hopkins this offseason, according to a report Tuesday from The Score’s Jordan Schultz.
A Hopkins trade would be part of a full-scale rebuild for the Cardinals, who fired head coach Kliff Kingsbury, had general manager Steve Keim resign for health reasons and will be without Kyler Murray for at least part of next season after the star quarterback tore his ACL in December.
Hopkins turns 31 in March and is past his game-breaking prime, but he remains a dangerous wideout that defenses must respect. From his return from a PED suspension in Week 7 through Murray’s injury in Week 14, he led the NFL in receptions and ranked fourth in receiving yards.
If the Cardinals are indeed shopping him, should the Patriots be interested? Absolutely.
After New England and Arizona squared off in mid-December, we wrote about why pursuing Hopkins would make a lot of sense for the Patriots. Below is an edited version of that story, which originally was published Dec. 18.
Bill Belichick loves him some DeAndre Hopkins. The Patriots lack elite talent at wide receiver.
Could those factors converge to bring Hopkins to New England next season?
Belichick did not hide his affinity for the Arizona wideout ahead of last week’s Patriots-Cardinals matchup, comparing Hopkins to Hall of Famer Cris Carter and saying he’s “every bit as good as anybody I’ve ever coached against.” The head coach shared a similar message directly to Hopkins during the game.
“I’m glad we only have to play you every four years, man,” Belichick said, as captured by HBO’s “Hard Knocks.” “… What a career you’re having. You missed half the season, still going to lead the league in receiving.”
“I love you, man,” Hopkins replied.
“You too,” Belichick said. “You too.”
This wasn’t your garden-variety Belichick praise for a Patriots opponent. He clearly believes Hopkins is one of the best players in the NFL at his position, and his numbers this season back that up. And Hopkins, based on his recent comments, seems to have a high level of respect for Belichick, too.
“A guy like Belichick, he’s one of the most respected people in the NFL, he’s a Hall of Fame coach, and for him to have that high praise about me, it’s definitely mutual,” Hopkins told reporters. “I love playing against him. After every game, I try to make sure I say, ‘Hey, what’s up’ to him. I’ve got a lot of respect for him for sure.”
The Patriots have been hurting for a receiver of Hopkins’ caliber in recent years. Their current collection of wideouts (Jakobi Meyers, DeVante Parker, Kendrick Bourne, Nelson Agholor, Tyquan Thornton and two-way player Marcus Jones) isn’t awful, but it lacks the premier, game-changing pass-catcher that most of the NFL’s top teams feature. Their best receiver, Meyers, is set to hit free agency and might fetch more money outside New England. The disappointing Agholor’s contract also is up.
A player like Hopkins would fill that void, even if, at 30, he’s no longer in his physical prime. The question is whether Belichick would make the commitment from a financial and compensation standpoint to acquire him.
Hopkins has two years remaining on his Cardinals contract, so the Patriots wouldn’t be able to just go out and sign him this offseason. They’d need to trade for him and take on his current deal, which would carry a roughly $19.5 million salary cap hit for the 2023 season. Arizona would need to be willing to part with one of its best players to even make this a possibility, but it could be looking at a 2023 rebuild.
Trading the aging Hopkins, accepting the sizable dead money charges — $11.3 million in each of the next two seasons if he’s traded after June 1 — and recouping a draft pick could be the best course of action after a 2022 campaign that did not meet expectations. Hopkins reportedly has a no-trade clause, so he’d need to sign off on any potential deal.
What draft pick (or picks) would it take? That’s unclear. But at this point in Hopkins’ career, could a second-rounder get it done? Or a third-rounder coupled with a player? A first-rounder might be too rich for a Patriots team that has needs at other positions, most glaringly offensive tackle. But they have shown a willingness to trade picks for high-end wideouts in the past, most recently giving up a Round 1 selection for Brandin Cooks in 2017 (and then flipping him for another first one year later).
Cap-wise, the Patriots are set to enter the 2023 league year with the fourth-most available space of any NFL team, so they’d have the room to take on Hopkins’ contract. His ’23 cap hit currently is second-highest among receivers behind Tyreek Hill, but it would drop to a manageable 15th if he’s traded, per salary cap site Spotrac, with Arizona paying a portion of his tab.
Belichick has been a Hopkins superfan for years. He reportedly tried to trade linebacker Jamie Collins for him way back in 2016. And with good-not-great players like Meyers, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Allen Lazard and Darius Slayton headlining this year’s uninspiring crop of free agent receivers, the Patriots won’t find an elite target for quarterback Mac Jones on the open market.
If the Patriots want to add a player like that — and they should — their best chance of doing so is via trade. Though it’s not clear whether he’ll be available or attainable, a strong push for Hopkins would make a lot of sense.