Shortly after the start of the NFL’s legal tampering period, there was a report that the Texans acquired running back David Johnson from the Arizona Cardinals. Not much later came even more surprising news: the Texans were sending star receiver DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona.
The blockbuster deal lands the Texans a second-round pick and included a swap of fourth-round selections.
DeAndre Hopkins and a fourth round pick go to Cards for David Johnson and a second round pick this year and a fourth round pick next year.— John McClain (@McClain_on_NFL) March 16, 2020
The move is stunning not only because Hopkins is a three-time first-team All-Pro receiver, but also because he had three years remaining on his Houston contract at a reasonable $39.9 million — none of which is guaranteed.
Why did the Texans make this trade???
Hopkins has been with the Texans his entire NFL career after being drafted out of Clemson with the No. 27 overall pick in 2013. He has since lived up to his high draft pick — he’s had more than 1,000 receiving yards in five of his seven seasons as a pro. His best year came in 2018, when he averaged 98 receiving yards per game, and finished with a 70.6 percent catch rate.
At a little more than $13 million per year until 2023, Hopkins was set to be paid like the league’s 15th-best wide receiver while providing top-five production. The trade won’t bring much in terms of immediate salary cap relief, however. Getting rid of Hopkins only saves the Texans a little less than $3 million in 2020.
The overwhelming question surrounding all of this remains: What the hell is Bill O’Brien doing? The Texans finished their 2019 season blowing a 24-0 lead against the Chiefs in the playoffs, which should have been enough to fire O’Brien. It wasn’t, and not only did Houston keep him, it named him the team’s general manager, too. He’s gone 52-44 in six seasons with Houston, and he’s won a playoff game twice in four postseason appearances.
This isn’t the first blockbuster move O’Brien has made, either. He traded away several draft picks in a 2019 trade to acquire offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil and receiver Kenny Stills from the Dolphins. Landing a second-round pick in return for Hopkins will mitigate that a bit, but still leaves the team without a first-round pick this April. Part of the reason for the trade of Hopkins is reportedly because there was friction between him and O’Brien.
As shocking on the surface and unpopular as the DeAndre Hopkins trade is, multiple sources noted throughout past year that friction existed between him and Bill O'Brien that could ultimately lead to his exit. And it did today. How they pivot from this will be interesting— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) March 16, 2020
A positive for Houston is it does get Johnson as well. He’s a running back who was a first-team All-Pro in 2016, though an injury cost him almost all of the 2017 season and he struggled to stand out in the Cardinals’ offense over the last two years. In 2019, Johnson managed just 345 rushing yards and 370 receiving yards.
More importantly, Deshaun Watson is now without one of the best receiving weapons in the game. The fourth-year quarterback has dealt with a deficient offensive line for most of his still-young career, but now he has a lackluster receiving corps too.
Here is the WR crew that Deshaun Watson is now working with:— James Palmer (@JamesPalmerTV) March 16, 2020
Will Fuller (when he’s on the field healthy), Kenny Stills, Keke Coutee, DeAndre Carter, Steven Mitchell, Chad Hansen, Isaac Whitney
It’s a puzzling move for the Texans, to say the least.
The Cardinals benefit immediately from the move
This is absolutely huge for second-year quarterback Kyler Murray. The former No. 1 overall pick from the 2019 NFL Draft threw for 3,722 yards and 20 touchdowns last season on his way to winning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. Hopkins will help his development even more.
Murray’s receiving corps didn’t have anyone put up Hopkins-like numbers in 2019. His favorite target, 36-year-old Larry Fitzgerald, finished with 804 yards and just four touchdowns. Hopkins joins Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk, and an otherwise underwhelming group of wideouts.
The addition of speed and talent on offense is key in Kliff Kingsbury’s rebuild of the Cardinals. The second-year head coach spent six years as the head coach at Texas Tech before joining the NFL ranks. There he led one of the speediest, most high-octane offenses in college football. While the Cardinals weren’t exactly putting up Chiefs-level numbers in 2019, they did manage to finish 16th in points scored — a significant improvement from their last place finish in 2018.
Losing a second-round pick isn’t great, but it’s more than worthwhile for a 27-year-old receiver at the top of his game. Parting with Johnson is also a win for the Cardinals, because his lofty cap numbers are cleared from the books. Johnson was due to count $11.156 million against the Cardinals’ cap next year, not far from Hopkins’ $12.5 million hit.
The addition of Kenyan Drake via a midseason trade in 2019 showed just how expendable Johnson had become for Arizona. While Johnson has been shipped off to Houston, Drake was retained via the transition tag. That’s a high price to keep Drake, but the running back averaged 80.4 rushing yards, 21.4 and a touchdown in his eight games with the Cardinals in 2019.
The Kingsbury-Murray experiment is still in its early stages. Adding Hopkins to the mix could kick it into overdrive.