Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer Details Specifics of Hopkins Trade to Cardinals

Mason Kern

Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer recently broke down a number of the biggest happenings in NFL free agency in his column How the Bucs Scouted Tom Brady; Why the Stefon Diggs and DeAndre Hopkins Trades Came Together.

Here was his breakdown of the Hopkins move to the Arizona Cardinals:

"Let me start here: I get the shock over the Texans’ return for DeAndre Hopkins. The Texans got a 2, took on David Johnson and his contract, and swapped 4s with the Cardinals, and Arizona walked away with a player who’s been first-team All-Pro three years running. And that doesn’t seem like much when you consider that Diggs and Odell Beckham fetched first-round picks, plus additional draft capital, and Brandin Cooks twice was traded for a 1.

"But all that ignores the rest of the story, which explains why Houston couldn’t get more for a player of Hopkins’s caliber. So here’s that ... 

 "Hopkins wasn’t looking for an extension; he was looking for a raise on his existing contract, which has three years left on it. And word other teams had gotten was that he wanted around what Julio Jones got, more than $20 million per year. If you’re the team trading him, that makes it exponentially more difficult to move even a star player—Antonio Brown would be Exhibit A there. Last year, the trade market for Brown crashed when it became clear he wanted a similar adjustment to what Hopkins is asking for. Brown wound up getting it. The $39 million he had left over the three remaining years of his contract was bumped to about $50 million, and that happened without any years being added to the deal. Which is why the Raiders were able to get him for a third- and fifth-round pick. Very few other teams were willing to do what they did.

 "There was friction with Hopkins inside the organization, and really it had everything to do with Monday-to-Saturday. On Sundays, he was exemplary. The rest of the week, his practice habits (he didn’t practice much at all) became a problem, and because he was such a big star he had the ability to carry teammates in the wrong direction—guys who might not be able to turn it on come game day as easily as he could. And that was, if not easy, manageable. That said, it’s one thing to keep a guy who may not totally align with the program on an existing contract. It’s another to reward him with a new contract with three years left on that deal, and have to handle the message it sends to the locker room. And those intangible elements, by the way, are central to how EVP Jack Easterby is trying to help O’Brien rework the organization.

 "The Texans have big contracts coming up. Deshaun Watson will eventually get paid, whether it’s this offseason or next. And if he’s not signed before Patrick Mahomes, then Houston will likely be negotiating with him at astronomical numbers, even compared to where the top of the QB market is now. Laremy Tunsil’s another big-box deal the team is working on, and an adjustment to Hopkins’s deal (Hopkins likely wasn’t showing up without one) would likely be considered in those negotiations, which will almost certainly make Tunsil the NFL’s highest-paid offensive lineman. And then there are others, like linebacker Zach Cunningham and (if healthy) receiver Will Fuller that the team needed flexibility to take care of.

 "There’s also the argument over the value of a top receiver vs. other positions, and it’s worth noting that Sean Payton and Bill Belichick both traded away Brandin Cooks, the Steelers dealt Brown and the Giants probably aren’t looking back at the Odell Beckham trade with much regret. Receiver trades get a lot of attention because it’s much easier to judge how good they are versus, say, a left tackle or a pass-rusher. And usually the team shipping the receiver out gets grief—the Giants and Steelers sure did last year. The truth? The truth is it’s much easier to draw a correlation between winning and investment in the lines of scrimmage than between winning and having a great No. 1 receiver.

"Now, all of this said, this might wind up being a disaster for Texans. I don’t know one way or the other. I’d just reason that the conventional wisdom being thrown around about the trade is more than a little shaky, given the conditions in place, and how big-time receiver deals have gone in the past.

"And I’d say all that thinking that having Hopkins should great for Kyler Murray, and Kliff Kingsbury should be a better fit for Hopkins as a coach. I’m told this deal came out of the blue for the Cardinals; they didn’t even discuss it in Indy, and it’s a good gamble for them. Arizona’s just entering the window it has to spend with a quarterback on an affordable rookie contract, and the idea of Hopkins running through the secondary on scramble plays with Murray holding the trigger is a scary one, for sure.

"But if we’re calling this what it is, then the whole picture should be taken into account.

"So what’s next for Houston? What’s next is Watson firmly in place as the face of the offense, a role that I’d tell you the Texans are pretty comfortable with."

You can read Breer's entire column here.

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