DeAndre Hopkins survived on reputation, so a release might help the Cardinals — after all

Tempe, Arizona. – After the first day of organized team activities, a training session that DeAndre Hopkins did not attend, first-year head coach Jonathan Gannon was asked directly: Did Hopkins tell the team he wanted to be in Arizona?

Gannon said the Cardinals had good conversations with the star receiver and that he preferred to keep them private. It was not encouraging.

In the commercial market for months, Hopkins had already made his intentions known, and he showed up at Podcast “I am an athlete” He indirectly criticizes organization and quarterback Kyler Murray. It wasn’t exactly a power play move, but Hopkins’ point wasn’t hard to crack. He was ready to move on.

The Cardinals closed out Friday, surprisingly announcing the release of Hopkins, an up-and-down wide receiver, to a three-year contract in the Sahara. The move robs Arizona of a top offensive playmaker, getting nothing in return, but it could better position the Cardinals in the future, which have turned out to be the organization’s top selling point.

Hopkins’ future in the organization has been in question since the end of last season, which ended with a 4-13 mark and with Murray recovering from anterior cruciate ligament surgery. In 2023, Hopkins was set to make $19.45 million with a maximum earnings of $30 million. After a trade could not be made, first-year general manager Monty Ossenfurt suggested during the NFL Draft that Hopkins, who would turn 31 on June 6, should stay in Arizona, but that always seemed far fetched. The Cardinals had a lot of needs.

By getting rid of Hopkins, the Cardinals reportedly freed up more than $8 million in cap space but would still get $22.6 million. The upside: Hopkins, who has two years left on his contract, will be out in 2024. The Cardinals aren’t expected to compete this season (their roster is among the league’s weakest), but they’ve positioned themselves well in the league. future. Because of Ossenfort’s draft maneuver, the Cardinals have 11 2,024 draft picks, including two in the first round. This list can change quickly.

But 2023 is likely to be painful.

After just one week of OTAs, the Cardinals were long held back by uncertainty and short on star power. Hotheaded JJ Watt retired after last season. In addition to Murray, Zach Ertz is recovering from knee surgery. Safety Budda Baker, the heart and soul of the organization, has asked for a new trade or contract. Defensive tackle Zach Allen and cornerback Byron Murphy left via free agency, Allen to Denver, Murphy to Minnesota.

A five-time Pro Bowler, Hopkins was the biggest offensive threat in Arizona, though that label has recently taken root more in reputation than performance. After acquiring Hopkins from Houston in 2020, it arrived as advertised. In his first season in Arizona, Hopkins, open or not, caught just about everything he threw at him. He was a first-class machine, finishing with a franchise-record 115 catches for 1,407 yards and six touchdowns.

Since then, however, Hopkins has been unreliable, missing 15 contests in the past two seasons. In 2021, he missed most of the second half of the season due to injuries, a factor in Arizona State’s slide. Taking a 10-2 record in the second week of December, the Cardinals finished the regular season 11-6, then fell meekly to the Rams in the postseason wild card round. Hopkins finished his career with a career low 42 catches for 572 yards.

In 2022, Hopkins missed the first six games of the season after violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy. On the return, he was effective but not a difference-maker—in fairness, Arizona had several problems—finishing with 64 catches for a team-best 717 yards. There was also reason to question Hopkins’ relationship with Murray.

Midway through the season, the HBO series “Hard Knocks,” which profiled the Cardinals, showed Hopkins and Murray breaking up on the sidelines. Hopkins said this was nothing more than two rivals trying to win, which is common in the NFL and no big deal. But in a recent podcast, Hopkins included on his wish list for his next team a quarterback who “brings everyone with him, not just himself but everyone around him.” He also listed five QBs he would like to play with and did not include Murray.

Without Hopkins, Marquis “Hollywood” Brown would become Arizona’s most popular wide receiver. In 12 games with the Cardinals last year, the 5-foot-9 pacer produced 67 catches for the team for 709 yards and three touchdowns. Rondale Moore, a 2021 second-round draft pick, has shown flashes of playmaking, but has only played in 22 games in the past two seasons due to injuries. Zach Pascal (good years with the Colts), Greg Durch (last decent season with Arizona) and third-round pick Michael Wilson should also be in the mix.

The Cardinals still have a lot to understand. (It is not even known when Murray will play next season.) In that regard, Hopkins’ version hasn’t changed much. He just removed an obstacle that could help them – in the end.

(Photo: Cooper Neill/Getty Images)


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