Reporter of the AFC Est
DeAndre Hopkins is a free agent. At the end of May.
Who would have thought?
The Arizona Cardinals released him on Friday with a bit of a surprise. They seemed interested in trading him; then, on draft day, they seemed disinterested in trading him. It seems they overplayed their hand, waiting for the right trade package that never came. And finally, the Cardinals and Hopkins have gone their separate ways.
Now, Hopkins will have the opportunity to choose his next landing spot. And there will be no shortage of suitors. He may be 30 years old, but he’s still one of the best receivers in the NFL, even if he’s no longer the best. So let’s dive into where it could be headed in 2023 (and beyond).
New England Patriots
New England is expected to enter the mix, according to a source close to the situation. The Patriots had been interested in Hopkins, but couldn’t do anything about Arizona’s trade demands and the receiver’s contract. Now that he is a free agent, the situation changes. Maybe he and Bill O’Brien should settle their differences with Houston. But Hopkins would instantly be the No. 1 option for Mac Jones and the Patriots — a real game-changer for an offense that lacks one.
Buffalo looked one-dimensional for most of 2022, over-relying on Josh Allen’s deep game and legs. Hopkins is an absolute jump ball warrior, but he’s also an excellent possession receiver at this point in his career. He might not open up the rushing game (which is apparently why the Bills drafted tight end Dalton Kincaid in Round 1), but Hopkins would bring a much-needed element to the offense.
New York Jets
Do you sense a pattern here? Yes, most of the AFC East will be after Hopkins. Allen Lazard and Garrett Wilson are a solid 1-2 punch, but it’s not the same as Wilson and Hopkins. That’s a whole different level of talent. So while the Jets try to stockpile talent for Aaron Rodgers, Hopkins looks like a legitimate option for them. Of course, it could upset DT Quinnen Williams, who is awaiting a contract extension. But maybe the Jets can do both.
[Quinnen Williams changes Twitter bio amid contract dispute with Jets]
New York Giants
Our top NFC team, the Giants, couldn’t make things work with Kenny Golladay, a big receiver who thought he provided the constant threat of a big play. How about Hopkins? He and tight end Darren Waller would make a really compelling pairing, especially in the red zone. Hopkins is much better than the group in New York: Isaiah Hodgins, Darius Slayton, Parris Campbell. They all have potential, but not a lot of production.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs have a handful of small and mid-sized receivers. And none of them is a proven entity. That’s fine for Patrick Mahomes, who no longer needs a guy like Tyreek Hill to win a championship. (See: Super Bowl LVII.) But if the Chiefs can get Hopkins, my bet is they will get Hopkins. He would make his offense much better.
[Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes no longer needs a supporting cast. He creates one]
Why stop at Odell Beckham Jr. and Zay Flowers? The Ravens have been rebuilding their receiving corps with urgency this offseason. They signed Beckham earlier this offseason and then drafted Flowers in the first round last month.
It all felt like a peace offering to Lamar Jackson, who finally signed a contract extension with the team this month. The truth is, we don’t know where Beckham will be physically in his injury recovery process. And we don’t know how quickly flowers can make an impact. (This wasn’t perceived as the most impressive rookie crop of wideouts.) So Hopkins can help create more certainty in a position group that, while revamped, has some lingering concerns.
Speaking of uncertainty, the Lions will be without Jameson Williams for their first six games for violating the league’s game policy. And we don’t know how well he’ll look when he returns, given that he’s only recorded one catch in the NFL.
Detroit can keep Marvin Jones and Amon-Ra St. Brown, but the Lions would look much better with Hopkins in the mix. It would give Jared Goff a real weapon to stretch the defense, which would alleviate the important running game, led by rookie Jahmyr Gibbs and free agent addition David Montgomery.
Prior to joining FOX Sports as an AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @McKennAnalysis.
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