Coming off a disappointing year for the entire unit, the New England Patriots need to find a way to upgrade their offense this offseason. There are, of course, several ways to do that.
One is improving the personnel around quarterback Mac Jones to put him in the best possible situation heading into a crucial third year in the league. Re-signing Jakobi Meyers would be a start, but the team could be even more aggressive than taking care of its No. 1 free agent.
After all, it appears one of the best wide receivers of his generation could be available via trade. According to a report by theScore’s Jordan Schultz, the Arizona Cardinals are looking to move DeAndre Hopkins this offseason.
If Hopkins indeed becomes available, going after him would make sense from a Patriots point of view. While he will turn 31 in June and has failed to cross the 1,000-yard barrier in back-to-back years, he would be an immediate upgrade and serious WR1 to complement the returning corps of players at the position.
With that being said, let’s dive a bit deeper into the matter to find out if New England trading for Hopkins is actually realistic. To do that, let’s take a look at the matter from the perspective of each party involved.
Let’s start with the player in question himself. Whether or not Hopkins wants out of Arizona is not known at this point, but he is in a comfortable position: the two-year, $54.5 million contract extension he signed with the Cardinals in 2020 and which runs through the 2024 season includes a no-trade clause.
That means, the organization can not just ship him to the highest bidder; Hopkins will have a say in the matter. And him moving his no-trade stipulation to join the Patriots is certainly possible considering their financial capabilities this offseason — more on that in a second — and the apparent respect he has for head coach Bill Belichick:
While those pleasantries alone are not indicative of Hopkins’ (or Belichick’s) real feelings for one another in light of a potential trade setting, it is hard not to see the mutual respect they have for one another. And if the wideout wants a chance to play with the NFL’s best head coach — and maybe help transform the team back into a realistic Super Bowl contender — him waiving his no-trade clause could happen.
The question from his perspective would then become a contract-related one. According to Schultz’s report, Hopkins is “likely to seek a new deal” if traded. A team acquiring him would also pick up his salaries for the 2023 and 2024 seasons: $19.45 million and $14.92 millions, respectively, with a new contract likely to change those numbers.
If Hopkins waives his no-trade clause for the Patriots, however, he likely would also be more open to not taking a hard stance when it comes to contract negotiations — which might result in his 2023 cap hit coming down a bit.
One elephant still remains standing in that hypothetical room, though: Bill O’Brien. Hopkins is rumored to not be on the best terms with his former head coach with the Houston Texans, who traded him to Arizona in the first place in 2020.
Of course, O’Brien is currently not on the Patriots’ staff; he remains under contract with the University of Alabama until later this month. However, there is speculation that he might return to the team for which he served as offensive coordinator back in 2011. The O’Brien factor might not be a deal-breaker, but it is something to be considered when analyzing the situation.
After firing head coach Kliff Kingsbury and seeing general manager Steve Keim step down, Arizona has entered rebuild territory. The team has a quarterback in place in former first overall draft pick Kyler Murray, who signed a five-year $230.5 million contract extension through 2028 in July, but the pieces around him are moving.
The team is projected to have $33.6 million in cap space in 2023, but with only 33 players under contract might need to move some assets to bring itself into a competitive situation under a first-year head coach/GM pairing. This, in turn, could impact the handling of Hopkins and what the Cardinals are asking for in return for his services.
Nonetheless, he will not be made available on the cheap. Hopkins, after all, is still a productive player even on the wrong side of 30: his 79.7 receiving yards per game ranked 10th in the NFL this season despite effectively playing only four games with Murray as his quarterback. In games with the starting QB, he averaged 96.3 yards — a number that would have ranked third in a league-wide comparison.
His productivity will impact the Cardinals’ asking price, but so will his contract situation and age. The latter in particular might be an issue for teams, and will certainly impact what the Cardinals can recoup: a first-rounder could still come in, but it seems more likely that the club will need to settle for a second plus additional assets as its ceiling.
As noted above and mentioned in the title of this article, trading for Hopkins would make sense for the team. He is sill a bona fide receiver, whose route-running and contested catch abilities are as good as any player’s in the entire league.
Hopkins may not become Randy Moss 2.0 and is a different type of player at this stage in his career, but he would give the Patriots the closest thing to the Hall of Famer they have had since he left in 2010. Most importantly, adding him to the equation would take some pressure off the other wideouts on the team — even if Jakobi Meyers is retained.
At the moment, after all, New England’s top-level receivers are pending free agents Meyers and Nelson Agholor as well as DeVante Parker, Kendrick Bourne and Tyquan Thornton. Out of the five, only Thornton is truly a lock to be back in 2023. Ideally, Parker and Bourne will be kept as well and Meyers re-signed. Those four — i.e. the 2022 group sans Agholor — is a solid core filling every spot in the lineup.
Parker and Thornton are your X-receivers, capable of stressing teams deep. Meyers and Bourne are your chain-movers who can align both at the Z and in the slot. In itself, that is not a bad group especially if it continues to build its chemistry with Mac Jones.
From that point of view, adding Hopkins would not be a must (especially with considerable resources tied to tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith). That said, not only would he be a superior talent even at age 31, his presence alone would help free things up elsewhere: Hopkins is a true WR1 and needs to be treated as such by the defense.
He can be a safety valve for Jones in the intermediate game. He can be a complementary deep threat alongside Parker and Thornton. He can be a reliable red zone target. He can do it all, essentially combining the skillsets of New England’s other wideouts.
From an Xs and Os perspective, this would be a no-brainer. Of course, there is more to the situation than that.
For starters, the compensation. The Patriots are currently projected to be $35.8 million under the salary cap, according to Miguel Benzan. That would be enough to help them absorb the $19.45 million cap number and still leave them some financial wiggle room to address other matters. Ideally, though, New England would find a way to bring that number down — something Hopkins might not be opposed to in exchange for a new extended deal.
There also is the question of what acquiring Hopkins would cost. When the Texans traded him to Arizona three years ago, they received second- and fourth-round picks as well as running back David Johnson for him and fourth-rounder.
There is an argument to be made that the compensation was not worth giving up an All-Pro talent. The deal might have indirectly also contributed to Bill O’Brien getting fired seven months later.
Fast forward to the 2023 offseason and a Patriots team that does have the draft capital to make a move. Depending on the compensatory draft picks process, the team could own as many as 11 choices in this year’s college player selection meeting. Six of those picks will likely come in the first four rounds, giving New England a wide range of options to compensate Arizona if need be.
With all that in mind, it does seem unlikely that the Patriots would include the 14th overall pick in a trade for Hopkins. The team has not picked that high in a while, and the circumstances as a whole are different from when it sent the 32nd overall pick to New Orleans for Brandin Cooks in 2017. A second-rounder might therefore be the limit.
Of course, it is also a question of alternatives. And the ones that might be available are not necessarily impressive. The Patriots could invest the 14th overall pick in the draft in a wide receiver, for example, but that seems unlikely given the other needs the team has to address (most prominently at offensive tackle).
As for free agency, there also will be no wideouts of Hopkins’ level available. In fact, Meyers is actually one of the top options set to enter the market.
Add it all up, and you can see why New England going after the five-time Pro Bowler is not as far-fetched as it might seem.