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Patriots Pairing: Bill O’Brien, DeAndre Hopkins ‘Can Work’

Hopkins played under O'Brien as a member of the Houston Texans from 2014-19.

FOXBORO — Now that the New England Patriots have welcomed Bill O’Brien back into the fold, the task of rebuilding the team’s fractured offense is about to begin.

As confirmed by a Patriots Country source, O’Brien and the Pats have agreed for his return to the organization as their new offensive coordinator.

Accordingly, O’Brien will now become the architect of the remodeling project for a unit which finished 7th-worst in total yards while scoring only 21.4 points per game, ranking 17th in the NFL.

In short, the Patriots need to score points … and could use the help of a playmaker on the perimeter who can find the endzone.

Enter Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins?

In the opinion of a notable NFL executive, it is a possibility.

According to a Tuesday morning seasonal projection from ESPN, a panel of NFL executives provided anonymous player predictions on the 2023 NFL season. One of those predictions is that Hopkins would end up in New England.

It was reported last week that the Cardinals are expected to explore trade possibilities for the 31-year-old veteran. 

Because Hopkins has previously drawn effusive praise from coach Bill Belichick, New England has been heavily rumored as a potential destination for the talented wideout. 

Hopkins is a five-time Pro Bowler and has also been named to five All-Pro teams throughout his 10-year career. He has topped the 1,000 receiving yards mark in six of those seasons, with 71 total touchdown receptions. In fact, some of Hopkins’ greatest successes on a football field came while being coached by O’Brien with the Houston Texans.

Herein lies the rub.

O'Brien and Hopkins have a bit of a complicated past.

“That would be interesting to pair Bill O’Brien with Hopkins if O’Brien ends up with the Patriots OC job,” the exec said via ESPN’s report. “They might not be friendly. But they had success together with subpar quarterback play, so maybe it can work.”

Hopkins played under O'Brien as a member of the Texans from 2014-19, when the 53-year-old Dorchester, Mass. native was the team's head coach. Their working relationship unceremoniously ended when Hopkins and a fourth-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft were sent to the Cardinals for running back David Johnson, a 2020 second-round pick, and a 2021 fourth-round pick. Reception to the trade was highly critical of the Texans, -- especially O’Brien -- with multiple analysts calling it one of the worst of all time from their perspective, while simultaneously praising the Cardinals for "robbing" the Texans.

It has long been speculated that Hopkins was traded due to personal problems with O'Brien. In the aftermath of his trade, anonymous criticisms of Hopkins surfaced claiming the wide receiver missed practices, while calling into question the people with which Hopkins associated. In fact, former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver and Pro Football Hall of Famer Michael Irvin suggested that O'Brien may have crossed the line by comparing Hopkins' personal situation to that of the nefarious history of the late Aaron Hernandez.

Hopkins was quick to diffuse the exploitative direction of the story by taking to social media shortly after his trade to Arizona.

“This is being blown way out of proportion. As I've said before, I enjoyed and am proud of my time with the Texans. I have the utmost respect for Coach O'Brien and that will not change. Now, I'm ready to play for the Cardinals.”

DeAndre Hopkins (@DeAndreHopkins) March 18, 2020

Hopkins continued to set the record straight in a telephone interview with Sports Illustrated in April 2020, where he acknowledged professional conflicts with his former head coach. He told SI the practice criticisms stemmed from 2018 when an ankle injury forced him to miss practice time. Hopkins pointed out that the injury did not sideline him for any games. while asserting that there was "no evidence" of his absence from practices hurting the team. Hopkins actually had his best season that year, finishing with 115 receptions and 1,572 yards.

As expected, neither O'Brien nor Hopkins have expressed a willingness to work together since their split three years ago.

Has time been enough for Hopkins to heal old wounds and begin a new chapter in New England -- potentially with O'Brien as his offensive coordinator?

Or are both sides better served by remaining separate for the remainder of their careers?

All parties involved will have to weigh that decision very carefully in the coming days and weeks, with the Patriots perhaps having already chosen between one or the other.

Follow Mike D’Abate on Twitter @mdabateNFL and Listen/Subscribe to his daily podcast: Locked On Patriots

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