After a few months of speculation and trade rumors, the Arizona Cardinals decided to cut WR DeAndre Hopkins. According to Sports Illustrated, only the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs engaged in “substantive” trade talks with the Cards. The reason a trade didn’t go through, per Albert Breer, was Hopkins’ contract.
Technically, Hopkins hasn’t been released yet, according to ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio — with no transactions listed Friday due to the holiday weekend — but it is expected to become official on Tuesday afternoon.
Hopkins will be a free agent, ready to pursue his next move. He’s too talented to be stuck on a roster that should be among the worst in the league in 2023. There’ll undoubtedly be suitors, Hopkins is one of the best wide receivers of his generation and still has much to offer to any team. He’s a contested catch monster, a red zone target, and an all-around star.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see 31 teams lining up to secure his services, but Hopkins will likely take time to know where the right fit is. He’ll turn 31 years old in a matter of days, so one has to imagine that a contending team will be high on his list of demands. He’ll have an idea of where he wants to go, but what do we think the best landing spots for him are?
Looking at this financially, at least at face value, you’d think this doesn’t make sense. The Chiefs have just under $1 million in available cap space and, well, Hopkins is going to command much more money than that. But the Chiefs have the option of restructuring Patrick Mahomes’ contract — something they were already considering doing — and that could create a little more cap to make it work.
Now that the financials are out of the way, let’s talk about the fit on the field. It makes the most sense. The Chiefs showed last season that they don’t need elite wide receivers to have the best offense in the league. Sure, they have Travis Kelce and he’s one of the all-time greats, but Mahomes’ wideout options last season were JuJu Smith-Schuster, Kadarius Toney, Skyy Moore, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. If there’s room to upgrade and it makes sense, you can imagine Brett Veach and the Chiefs will be making calls.
It makes sense for Hopkins too. Mahomes would clearly be the best quarterback Hopkins has ever played with and he’d be joining the Super Bowl champions in the hunt to win back-to-back titles. Everyone wins. Except for the rest of the league.
Another obvious pick here. The Bills’ offense stalled out a bit at times in the regular season and in their playoff loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. The blame showed be shared among all parties, but it’s clear that the Bills just didn’t have enough talent on offense to compete. The offensive line struggled and, as much as he would like to, Josh Allen can’t target Stefon Diggs on every play. Gabe Davis is a solid receiver, but he was banged up for most of the year and didn’t take the jump that many wanted.
The Bills were able to add Dalton Kincaid with the No. 25 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft and seem likely to shift to more 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends, two wide receivers) next season. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be targeting another receiver. It should be encouraged. Especially when that receiver is someone as talented as Hopkins.
It diversifies their receiver portfolio too. Diggs is the deft, no-wasted-movement receiver with savvy route-running, Davis is the Z with over-the-top speed, and Hopkins could be their pure X receiver. It also means, that when the Bills have three receivers on the field, they can move them around in so many different ways. Per PFF, Diggs only lined up in the slot for 34.2 percent of his snaps in 2022, and allowing him to line up in the slot and work the space inside, gives the Bills something else to play with. And, of course, it gives Allen another player who can just go up and win contested catches. It’s an obvious pick because it would work so well.
Alright, let’s start mixing it up. The Lions have been the off-season darlings of the past two years, even if not everyone was a fan of how their 2023 draft panned out. They narrowly missed out on the playoffs last year and look like they’ve done enough to put themselves in contention for a postseason appearance in 2023. Most of the offense is returning, and the additions of Jahmyr Gibbs and Sam LaPorta offer fresh blood.
They still do need another outside receiver, though — and not just because of Jameson Williams’ six-game suspension for breaching the NFL’s rules on gambling. Even before that suspension, the Lions needed another body on the outside. Amon-Ra St. Brown is an excellent receiver but most of his production comes as a slot guy. Outside of St. Brown, the Lions will be lining up with Josh Reynolds, Marvin Jones Jr., and Kalif Raymond as players they’ll be relying on for targets.
Say no more. The Lions need Hopkins. He’ll give Jared Goff a reliable option to pass to and the mere presence of him lined up outside would open up more space for St. Brown. He has a gravitational pull that most receivers don’t possess. For the ball, and defenders. As an aside, sticking him in an offense designed by Ben Johnson, the Lions’ offensive coordinator, would be so much fun. They could also stand to throw a little more money at him than the Bills or Chiefs could.
We’re drifting further and further away from guaranteed contenders and shifting towards the realms of teams who probably need Hopkins more than he needs them. It’s not a knock on the Patriots, who still have a sturdy roster capable of competing for a Wildcard spot in 2023, but this isn’t Tom Brady driving the bus anymore. It hasn’t been for almost four years. It’s a new team.
Thus, the pull is a little less, even with Bill Belichick at the helm. But a move for Hopkins is still plausible. Belichick is a known fan of Hopkins (who isn’t?) and the Patriots were a team whose name consistently came up when a trade was floated before the draft. And why not? The Patriots starting receiver trio is Smith-Schuster, Kendrick Bourne, and DeVante Parker. Smith-Schuster is a nice fit in the slot, and Bourne can have moments, but adding Hopkins is a clear upgrade. He can do everything that Parker can but does it five times better. And he’s done it with quarterbacks less talented than Mac Jones.
Jones can still be the Patriots quarterback of the future, but if they want him to develop then they need to put him in a better position to succeed. Right now, the offensive line is okay, and the running game is good, but they need some real firepower at wide receiver. Hopkins is that guy. The only drawback, outside of them not being real contenders, is a quick look at who the Patriots’ offensive coordinator is. Go on, have a look. You’ll understand.
A final shot in the dark here, how about the Minnesota Vikings? They’re obviously still looking to contend in 2023 and it could be Kirk Cousins’ final year with the team, so why not push the chips in just a little further and add Hopkins? It’s unlikely, but it does make sense.
The Vikings have Justin Jefferson, the best receiver in the NFL bar none, and Jordan Addison currently projected to be the No. 1 and 2 receivers on the team, and then they have T.J. Hockenson, who will also command a significant role in the offense, and then K.J. Osborn as the teams third wide receiver. Osborn is a decent No. 3, too. So the Vikings aren’t short on receiving options and do have needs elsewhere.
But the opportunity to pair Jefferson and Hopkins feels like something you can’t turn down. The amount of attention either, or both receivers, would command while on the field at the same time is incredible – and the benefits that would bring to the roster are clear to see. It would also give Addison, the Vikings’ first-round pick in 2023, a veteran mentor at the receiver position, but it would also give him more freedom to play as a slot receiver, using his immense ability to separate inside.
This probably made more sense before the draft, but it’s not something outside the realm of possibility. Offenses win games and championships, and adding Hopkins to an already strong offense would make them one of the best units in the league. Cousins’ play over the last few seasons has been solid enough too, but putting as many weapons around him as possible is the best way to get the best out of him. The Vikings’ offense could terrify opposing defenses.
It’s the Chiefs.