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Opinion: Examining some non-Bills contenders for DeAndre Hopkins

New challengers have appeared

New England Patriots v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins was released from the Arizona Cardinals yesterday.

In the wise words of Michael Corleone: “just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”

The DeAndre Hopkins saga has stretched out for weeks and reached its first fever pitch before the 2023 NFL Draft. After no trade was made before or during that weekend and Hopkins was quoted as asking “who said I wanted to leave,” it appeared a possibility that the Cardinals might hold onto the talented pass catcher for at least 2023. But with a scheduled cap hit of close to $31 million and Arizona likely looking at a rebuilding year, the Cardinals decided to part ways with him as a pre-June 1 cut, electing to take all $22.6 million dollars in dead cap this year to free up room in 2024.

And so “Hopkins Watch” is back on.

But the Buffalo Bills aren’t the only team that makes sense to acquire the five-time Pro Bowler. Other teams loom in the distance that might fit what Hopkins wants and may be able to provide him the combination of contract and competitiveness he wants. Hopkins has said that he believes he’s “passed that point in (his) career” where he would want to catch passes from a rookie quarterback, so let’s examine some other contenders:

Kansas City Chiefs

The reigning Super Bowl champions chose to trade away star wide receiver Tyreek Hill rather than pay him the $30 million average annual salary he got from the Miami Dolphins. They turned around and invested a second-round pick in Skyy Moore out of Western Michigan before trading a third and a sixth for former New York Giants receiver Kadarius Toney before the 2023 trade deadline. These investments totaled Kansas City 36 catches for 421 yards during the regular season. They traded up to draft SMU receiver Rashee Rice only a few weeks ago in the second round after losing JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman in free agency. They’ve invested assets in young players at the position since Hill’s departure but don’t yet have the concrete production to show for it. Hopkins has mentioned his affinity for Patrick Mahomes and Albert Breer of NFL Network reported the two sides spoke earlier this offseason, but the contract was the hurdle. Now that the contract can be structured differently, the drums will continue to beat for Kansas City as a possible destination. The Chiefs have the second-lowest cap space of any team in the NFL per OverTheCap and seemingly utilized their designated “2023 creative contract chip” when they signed former Buccaneers tackle Donovan Smith, which makes for a meaningful hurdle.

New England Patriots

The Patriots are currently +6500 to win the Super Bowl (Buffalo Bills are +900), so if winning a title is the most important thing for Hopkins, he’s likely to find teams with a higher probability of bringing home the Lombardi. But we’ve seen players talk about how winning a title is incredibly important to them before signing with a team that didn’t appear to give them the best chance to do so. Hopkins and Patriots head coach Bill Belichick have been effusive in their praise of each other in the past and had a clip outlining their respect go viral at one point during Hopkins’ tenure with the Cardinals:

If Hopkins is looking for the largest target share, New England might be his best bet. They’re a strong candidate to rebound on offense after bringing in a new offensive coordinator, but this same fact is what makes me believe New England in a long-shot to acquire him: Bill O’Brien is that new offensive coordinator. The Patriots also have the most cap space of any team on this list and may be able to structure the contract the way that is best for Hopkins.

O’Brien was the head coach of the Houston Texans during Hopkins’ time there and Hopkins has said he had “no relationship” with him. Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin told ESPN’s “Get Up” that Hopkins had mentioned to him that there was “a bit of a power struggle” in the Texans’ locker room due to the wide receiver’s perceived influence.

So on paper, the Patriots make sense in the event Hopkins is looking for a dominant target share, and clear and unquestioned WR1 pass catcher status. But the relationship dynamics at play make it more difficult to see this move coming to fruition.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens were assumed to be out of the Hopkins trade race when they signed Odell Beckham Jr. to a one-year contract that can be worth up to $18 million. They then drafted wide receiver Zay Flowers out of Boston College in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft. They have former first-round receiver Rashod Bateman returning from a foot injury that cost him most of the 2022 season. But with Lamar Jackson signed to a fresh new deal and a “pass more, run less” mindset, a new offensive coordinator in Todd Mocken and middle-of-the-road cap space still available, the Ravens need to be mentioned as a suitor after Hopkins specifically named Lamar Jackson as a quarterback it’d be an “honor” to play with. A new identity on offense for Baltimore could come with a level of aggressiveness that might even appear overkill to some, but the Ravens still make sense as a pursuer of Hopkins.

Los Angeles Chargers

Neither of the Chargers’ starting receivers are stone-cold locks to be on the team’s roster in 2024. Stalwart Keenan Allen is scheduled to have a mammoth $34.7-million cap hit during his age-32 season after a hamstring injury limited him to 10 games in 2022. Mike Williams’ cap hit will also be $32.4 million in 2024 during his age 30 season. The Chargers addressed part of the succession plan at the position by drafting wide receiver Quentin Johnston in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft. But if Hopkins was looking for a multi-year commitment, this might be the team that could best provide it to him with a clear path to top targets soon, if perhaps not immediately. The Chargers still have $12.7 million in cap space for 2023 per Over The Cap and Justin Herbert was listed as one of the five quarterbacks Hopkins said prior to his release that he’d like to play with.

Philadelphia Eagles

Howie Roseman is in a Super Bowl window and he knows it. After falling just short in 2023, the Eagles general manager known for his aggressiveness is surely checking in on Hopkins’ interest in joining the team. The presence of A.J. Brown and Devonta Smith at the top of the depth chart might indicate a lower target share than Hopkins is used to, but if he wants to win a championship and doesn’t pick the Kansas City Chiefs, it’s not hard to argue that he could be a missing piece for the team that narrowly missed bringing home the Lombardi trophy, especially in a weak NFC relative to the perceived powerhouse AFC. Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts was listed by Hopkins as a player he’d like to play with, and the Eagles, like every team on this list, have “stable management upstairs,” which was listed as a criteria for Hopkins.

New York Giants

The Giants makes sense for the same reason as the New England Patriots, in the fact that they can offer the clearest immediate path to unquestioned WR1 targets. The Giants were rumored to be looking at receivers in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft before taking Maryland cornerback Deonte Banks instead, following a run on pass catchers from picks 20-23 that took all four of the first-round wide receivers off the board. They then traded up in the third round to select Jalin Hyatt out of Tennessee, but he doesn’t profile as a player who could come in and dominate targets right away. Giants head coach Brian Daboll and general manager Joe Schoen saw the change in Bills quarterback Josh Allen when Buffalo acquired Stefon Diggs and could be hoping that Daniel Jones finds a similar jump in passing prowess with the acquisition of someone like Hopkins.

The Giants won just as many playoff games as the Buffalo Bills in 2023, are in a weaker conference, have slightly more cap space than the Bills and Chiefs, and can offer Hopkins elite target share immediately. The only question is how Hopkins would feel about Daniel Jones.

So whether it’s target share, cash, length of commitment, quarterback play, or Super Bowl odds, DeAndre Hopkins has options on the open market. Priorities are revealed best through action, and the decision he makes moving forward will answer questions on what it is that was important to him during his first-ever free-agency tour.

...and that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I’m Bruce Nolan with Buffalo Rumblings. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram @BruceExclusive and look for new episodes of “The Bruce Exclusive” every Thursday on the Buffalo Rumblings podcast network!