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Why the Patriots should pursue neo-free agent DeAndre Hopkins, and why they should not

The Cardinals pulled the plug on the DeAndre Hopkins era on Friday, releasing the veteran wide receiver after three seasons.

New England Patriots vs Arizona Cardinals Set Number: X163469

The New England Patriots’ efforts to improve a disappointing offense this offseason did not include any major splashes at the wide receiver position.

They did sign free agent JuJu Smith-Schuster, but also lost their WR1 from the last three seasons — Jakobi Meyers — on the open market. They also did draft a pair of high-upside players at the position, but waited until the third day to bring Kayshon Boutte and Demario Douglas aboard. Neither of the two should be expected to be an instant difference-maker, while Smith-Schuster projects as a replacement for Meyers first and foremost.

In addition to those moves, the Patriots also explored the trade market to no avail. Among the players they expressed some level of interest in was DeAndre Hopkins — the same DeAndre Hopkins who was just released by the Arizona Cardinals.

With the five-time Pro Bowler now available on the open market, the question becomes whether or not New England should go after the neo-free agent. There are arguments in favor of both, so let’s dissect the situation based on everything we know about the Patriots offense as is and what Hopkins would potentially bring to the table.

Why the Patriots should pursue DeAndre Hopkins

Even on the wrong side of 30, Hopkins can still be a productive player in the NFL. His 2022 season was proof of that. Despite missing the first six weeks of the season due to a suspension for violating the league’s policy against performance-enhancing drugs, he still caught 64 passes for 717 yards and three touchdowns.

His 79.7 receiving yards per game ranked 10th in the NFL last season despite effectively playing only four games with Arizona starter Kyler Murray as his quarterback. In games with Murray throwing him the ball, he averaged 96.3 yards — a number that would have ranked third in a league-wide comparison.

His age is a question mark, and something we will discuss a bit further down. Based on the player he was in 2022, however, he still looks like a bona fide receiver whose route-running and contested catch abilities are as good as any player’s in pro football.

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.

At the moment, New England’s depth chart consists of the aforementioned JuJu Smith-Schuster, DeVante Parker, Kendrick Bourne and Tyquan Thornton as well as rookies Boutte and Douglas, and career practice-squadder Tre Nixon. Out of those seven, only Smith-Schuster and Thornton are true locks to make the 53-man roster come September, and together with Parker and Bourne currently projected to form the core of this year’s group.

Parker and Thornton are your X-receivers, capable of stressing teams deep. Smith-Schuster 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 even though the returning core failed to light the world on fire in 2022.

From that point of view, adding Hopkins would not be a must. 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 a pure Xs and Os perspective, pursuing Hopkins would make plenty of sense. Of course, there is more to the situation than that, namely: compensation.

The good news is that the Patriots do have the cap space in 2023 and beyond to be competitive on the open market. The bad news brings us to the second part of this analysis.

Why the Patriots should not pursue DeAndre Hopkins

Hopkins, as noted above, was still a productive player in 2022 and is likely looking to be compensated accordingly. While he cannot (and should not) be blamed for that, this is where things might get a bit tricky as far as the Patriots are concerned.

New England, after all, is as financially disciplined as any team in the league. This might manifest itself in two ways:

1.) The Patriots’ valuation of what they might get out of Hopkins, particularly in future seasons beyond 2023, might differ quite a bit from what he himself envisions.

2.) The Patriots are unlikely to enter any bidding wars to acquire the services of a soon-to-be 31-year-old wide receiver who had a combined 1,289 receiving yards the last two years.

Both of that could potentially become an issue, especially if Hopkins’ market is as lively as it projects to be. Teams such as the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills are also rumored to be interested in the veteran pass catcher, and they might be a bit more willing to go overboard to bring him in — championship windows do not stay open forever, and both teams currently would benefit from more talent at wide receiver.

The Patriots, obviously, also want to reach that level of competition again. But will paying Hopkins at market value really get them there, especially relative to the talent they already have under contract?

His age, as noted above, is a definitive problem here. He will turn 31 in June, and has already appeared in a combined 151 regular season and playoff games. This wear and tear might eventually catch up to him, which in turn makes projecting his future success a difficult endeavor: he might be able to return to the All-Pro play he showed earlier in his career and maintain that level for a few more years, but it is no less likely that that will not happen.

And if the Patriots have any doubts about his outlook, they will be hesitant to invest top-dollar or significant guarantees beyond the short-term — something other clubs might be willing to do.

Besides the contractual and age questions, one other aspect also has to be kept in mind: Bill O’Brien, who returned to the Patriots earlier this offseason to take over as their new offensive coordinator.

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. O’Brien’s presence being a deal-breaker seems unlikely, but it might be something to be considered especially if the Patriots are competing for Hopkins’ services against other teams.

So, what does all of that mean for the Patriots? That is the multi-million dollar question, and one that comes down how confident the team is in Hopkins’ future. There is no denying he might be able to come in and give the club a true WR1 it has lacked possibly since the days of Brandin Cooks in 2017. Then again, his age, recent history and likely competition on the open market might make this a “no” for the team.

What can be said, though, is that the discussion alone might be one worth having for the team.