One of the NFL’s best wide receivers is a free agent.
In a surprising move, the Arizona Cardinals released five-time All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins on Friday. Hopkins has been at the center of trade speculation this offseason, but Arizona ultimately decided to forgo a potential deal and eat his $22.6 million dead cap hit for 2023.
Now, a game-changer has suddenly hit the open market months after free agency began. While Hopkins turns 31 in June, he’s far from washed up. Following a six-game PED suspension, he made 64 catches for 717 yards and three touchdowns over nine games in 2022.
There is a long list of teams that could use Hopkins’ services, from his former team in the lowly Houston Texans to the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. But which destinations make the most sense?
Here’s a look at five potential landing spots:
This would be the least surprising outcome. Hopkins has recently both indicated his willingness to play for Buffalo and named Josh Allen among the quarterbacks he’d love to catch passes from.
He also fills a need for the Bills as they try to get over the hump and reach the Super Bowl. Hopkins and Stefon Diggs would form arguably the league’s best WR tandem, with wideout Gabe Davis, tight end Dawson Knox and first-round rookie tight end Dalton Kincaid rounding out an impressive group of pass-catchers. With Allen leading the way, that certainly sounds like a passing attack capable of powering Buffalo to its first Lombardi Trophy.
The Panthers parted with their best wide receiver in order to secure a quarterback of the future. D.J. Moore was shipped to the Chicago Bears in the trade that saw Carolina move up to the No. 1 overall pick to select Bryce Young.
Before drafting Young, the Panthers were proactive in acquiring veteran weapons like running back Miles Sanders, wide receiver Adam Thielen, wide receiver DJ Chark and tight end Hayden Hurst. So it wouldn’t be shocking to see Carolina continue the trend of upgrading the supporting cast around Young.
Also, if Young hits the ground running, there is a very realistic scenario where the Panthers win the NFC South. And the addition of Hopkins would boost those chances.
The Lions are the betting favorite to win the NFC North. Yes, the same Lions who haven’t made the playoffs since 2016 and last won the division in 1993.
But Detroit already has some early-season adversity they’ll need to overcome. The Lions will be without wideout Jameson Williams for the first six games after the 2022 first-round pick was suspended for a gambling violation. Williams was already a question mark after recording just one catch as a rookie in his return from an ACL tear. Now, the Lions won’t really start to see what they have in him until Week 7.
Adding Hopkins to a wide receiver group with Amon-Ra St. Brown and Marvin Jones Jr. would take some pressure off Williams when he returns and bolster Detroit’s efforts to capture the division crown.
New England Patriots
It’s hard to keep track of what year we’re on in the “Patriots could use a top wide receiver” discourse.
Yes, the Pats added JuJu Smith-Schuster in free agency but they also lost Jakobi Meyers to the Las Vegas Raiders. Smith-Schuster, DeVante Parker, Kendrick Bourne, Tyquan Thornton — how about giving Mac Jones a premier wide receiver for the first time as he tries to bounce back from a disappointing sophomore campaign?
There could be a few potential hurdles for Bill Belichick and Co. in landing Hopkins, though. Hopkins didn’t seem thrilled when asked last month about the idea of a trade to New England. He also has a checkered history with former Texans head coach and current Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien. O’Brien, who was also Houston’s general manager at the time, oversaw the Texans’ 2020 trade of Hopkins to Arizona.
New York Giants
The Giants’ last big-time splash at wide receiver turned out to be a disaster. New York signed Kenny Golladay to a four-year, $72 million deal in 2021, and he went on to make 43 catches for 602 yards and one touchdown over two seasons before being cut this past March.
That, however, shouldn’t dissuade the G-Men from making a move for Hopkins. While New York is loaded with options at wideout, they lack a true No. 1 option. The Giants already provided $160 million man Daniel Jones with a top tight end this offseason by trading for Darren Waller, and they’d be wise to follow suit at wide receiver.
Bonus: Philadelphia Eagles
As a bonus, let’s examine one of the more fun (and probably less likely) potential landing spots. Do the reigning NFC champions really need Hopkins? No. They already have arguably the NFL’s best wide receiver duo in A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith, along with tight end Dallas Goedert and a dominant rushing attack that now features D’Andre Swift.
However, the Eagles could use an upgrade at WR3 over Quez Watkins. And you simply can never count out general manager Howie Roseman from making a splash, especially coming off a crushing Super Bowl loss.
The concern here is how the team’s other top weapons would feel about their roles being lessened by the addition of Hopkins, particularly Smith as he’s eligible for an extension after 2023. But can you imagine Jalen Hurts, D’Andre Swift, A.J. Brown, DeAndre Hopkins, DeVonta Smith, Dallas Goedert and an elite offensive line sharing the field? Now that’s a dream team, Vince Young.