We are in the final days of the first wave of the NFL offseason as the draft rapidly approaches (check us out on YouTube and Twitter for our SumerSports Show live stream during the draft next Thursday at 7:30 ET). With Odell Beckham Jr. landing with the Baltimore Ravens and D.J. Moore being shipped to the Bears in the trade for the first-overall pick, there remains a marquee wide receiver whose 2023 home is still in question: DeAndre Hopkins.
Hopkins has been one of the league’s best receivers since he joined the Houston Texans as a first-round pick in 2013. He overcame below-average quarterback play for several years and averaged over two yards per route run in every season with Houston except his rookie year and the 2015 stanza. In a trade that surprised many, Hopkins was shipped to Arizona for just a second-round pick and running back David Johnson in the spring of 2020.
4×1 YYY verticals gets Hopkins on the backside iso pic.twitter.com/IUe96rgu3Q
— Shawn (@SyedSchemes) October 29, 2021
The Cardinals rewarded Hopkins by making him the league’s highest-paid receiver (roughly $27 million average per year). In turn, Hopkins rewarded the Cardinals by averaging 2.25 yards per route run in 2020, amassing over 1,400 receiving yards, and helping the Cardinals improve to 8-8. He was impactful again in 2021 with 1.75 yards per route run as he helped the Cardinals to a hot start that was enough to lead them to the playoffs for the first time since 2015. Hopkins missed much of the second half of the season with an injury and was later dinged in the 2022 offseason with a suspension.
Hopkins’ 2022 season was tumultuous between the six-game suspension invalidating his no-trade clause and the injury to Kyler Murray shortly after he returned. He caught 10 or more passes and earned 98 or more receiving yards in three of the four full games he had with Murray, but after the 2019 first overall pick suffered an ACL injury, Hopkins did not go over 90 yards again.
As we stand now, Hopkins has requested a trade. Many teams have been noted as potential trade destinations, but because there are fundamental hurdles to adding Hopkins and his contract, no one has pulled the trigger. Here are a couple of explanations as to why:
Hopkins Has a Tough Contract to Trade
Hopkins’ cap hits for the Cardinals this season and next are approximately $30 million and $25 million, respectively. These are big hits for a player who (for a myriad of reasons) has failed to reach 1,000 yards in each of the last two years. Given their current state, it is reasonable for the Cardinals – a team betting markets believe are rebuilding – to want to move on from the contract.
The team trading for Hopkins will only have to pay, at most, about $19.5 million of the $30 million in 2023 and about $14.5 million in 2024. The reason for this is about $10 million a year on Hopkins’ deal are prorated monies from bonuses in the past. These cap charges must be accrued by the Cardinals should they cut or trade him.
Unless a deal is struck with the Cardinals before a trade, which generally does not happen in the NFL, or the Cardinals agree to eat some or all of Hopkins’ 2023 base salary, the trading team must have the space on hand to cover the 2023 charge of $19.5 million. Only five teams, the Bears, Panthers, Lions, Colts, and Packers, could take on that money right now, and only Chicago is projected to be able to after rookie deals are signed for projected draft picks. Thus, most teams making a move for Hopkins would need to do some restructuring across their roster before the trade (and very likely a restructure of Hopkins’ deal after the trade) was completed. This is a lot of work that will have future implications, which likely will include the use of void years or other future-charging moves for a 31-year-old wide receiver.
Hopkins is Fighting the Age Curve
DeAndre Hopkins has been one of the most dominant receivers in the NFL during his career. Reaching the top of that mountain again may be difficult as Hopkins has seen his yards per route run decline from 2.25 in 2020 to 1.76 in 2021 and 1.98 in 2022. His average yards after the catch have gone from 4.5 yards in 2020 to 3.3 and 2.8 in 2021 and 2022, respectively.
This is not necessarily a dig at Hopkins as players generally decline when they get into the current stage of his career. My former colleague at PFF, Timo Riske, has done the research on age curves in the NFL, where, as of 2020, 40% of a wide receiver’s wins above replacement were generated before the age of 25 and only 18% after the age of 30. Even then, Hopkins may be able to provide value to a team with a developing quarterback or a receiver room that is missing Hopkins’ style of play to round it out.
With Hopkins well past the age of 30, he is a player who is probably worth closer to $12-17 million per season, so even the reduced rate of $19.5 million is a bit steep. $33 million over two years would put him on par with the high end of estimates, but in that case, you are trading an asset with positive surplus value (a draft pick) for an asset that has – probably at best – zero surplus value. This might be more appetizing for a team thinking “win now” (e.g., the 2021 Rams) where the surplus value of future picks is not really of concern relative to the raw value of a player in that year.
A team that is striving for a positive return in each of the two (plus, probably) years of Hopkins on the books will likely find that hard to surmise unless Hopkins’ salary comes in a bit lower. In that case, however, the draft pick compensation for Hopkins – and with it the attached surplus value surrendered – would have to go up in tandem:
|DeAndre Hopkins (2023)||$15 million (estimated)||$19.5 million||-$4.5 million|
|DeAndre Hopkins (2024)||$13 million (estimated)||$14.5 million||-$1.5 million|
|Second-Round Pick (2023-2026) per year||$11 million (estimated)||$1.5 million (estimated)||$9.5 million|
|Third-Round Pick (2023-2026) per year||$7.2 million (estimated)||$1 million (estimated)||$6.2 million|
|Fourth-Round Pick (2023-2026) per year||$4.7 million (estimated)||$0.95 million (estimated)||$3.75 million|
The various value estimates for DeAndre Hopkins in 2023 and 2024 along with the rumored draft pick compensation required to acquire him.
A DeAndre Hopkins trade has gotten less and less likely by the day with teams unwilling to part with the (reported) assets that the Cardinals want in exchange without eating a great deal of the remaining $33 million owed to Hopkins.
Those two competing factors have kept a trade from happening since Hopkins requested one earlier this offseason and might continue to keep it from happening until at least the 2023 NFL Draft. With the wide receiver market purportedly a bit thin at the top of the draft, if a team misses out on a player they like in April, their appetite for Hopkins might go up in May.
If no such opportunity presents itself in the spring or summer, a training camp or mid-season trade could be in the works once injuries or deficiencies among teams’ receiving corps make them more desperate. Even a mid-season release in 2023 might make sense if a deal cannot be reached à la Beckham in 2021.
While it does appear that DeAndre Hopkins’ time with the Arizona Cardinals is nearing a close, the exact way in which that happens has yet to make itself apparent. Even though the former Clemson star tweeted that he was not looking for a raise, his contract as-is and sober estimates for his ROI after a trade are keeping the deal from happening right now.