On Thursday, ESPN’s Matt Bowen published a list of 13 prominent NFL free agents and trade candidates — and what he considered to be their best landing spots.
You’ll never guess what he said about a former Arizona Cardinals wideout.
DeAndre Hopkins, WR
Best team fit: Kansas City Chiefs
Hopkins was released by the Cardinals last week after the team couldn’t find a trade partner. It wasn’t because he couldn’t play, though — the 30-year-old was scheduled to count $30.75 million against Arizona’s cap. He is still a detailed and savvy route runner, and he has great ball skills. He can create matchup advantages in scoring position. In nine games last season — only five of those came with quarterback Kyler Murray on the field — he caught 64 passes for 717 yards.
There will be multiple teams with interest in Hopkins. The Buffalo Bills fit here. The New York Jets, New England Patriots and Dallas Cowboys, too. Maybe even the Cleveland Browns. With the Chiefs and coach Andy Reid, however, he could be used as a boundary target for Patrick Mahomes or work inside on leveled concepts to attack schemed voids in the coverage. Hopkins would join a title contender and upgrade the league’s best pass game.
We made a careful count. During the past week, there have been 7,328 items on the Internet suggesting that Hopkins would be an ideal fit for the Chiefs.
It’s not that these articles have been wrong. Hopkins would fit in Kansas City’s offense, where Reid, Mahomes and offensive coordinator Matt Nagy could do some damage with a “detailed and savvy route runner” who has “great ball skills.” There’s no argument about that.
Nor is there an argument that a player who will be 31 on Monday (and over the last two seasons, has missed 14 games to three different injuries and a six-game suspension) might not be available for every 2023 game.
But this would also be the 7,327th article that completely ignores the elephant in the room: that Kansas City has just $1.1 million in cap space. When the Chiefs and Bills were talking to the Cardinals about trading for Hopkins in early April — almost two months ago — those negotiations fell apart when the Baltimore Ravens signed Odell Beckham Jr. to a one-year contract worth in excess of $15 million; Hopkins was reported to feel he was worth “at least” that much.
Can the Chiefs create enough cap space?
Is it possible that Kansas City could find a way to create enough cap space — perhaps by completing a contract extension with defensive tackle Chris Jones and/or making a salary-to-signing-bonus conversion with one or two existing player contracts? Sure.
But let’s remember: the team can’t do a roster-bonus-to-signing-bonus conversion on Mahomes’ contract, because that has to be done before the roster bonus comes due in mid-March — and the Chiefs have already done that in 2023. Without a complete restructure, Mahomes’ contract can’t create more cap space this season.
But after Mahomes led the league in passing yards (and won his second NFL MVP award) without a single wide receiver eclipsing 1,000 yards, would the Chiefs even consider committing a large amount of money to a wide receiver for a single season? Probably not.
Among the 17 quarterbacks given that award in the previous 20 years, only three didn’t have a wide receiver with a 1,000-yard season. Of those three, Lamar Jackson and Cam Newton weren’t given those awards because of their passing skills — and in 2010, Tom Brady led the league in passer rating and passing touchdowns. What this tells us is that in 2022, Mahomes showed that he truly does have the ability to elevate the receivers around him.
Could he be better with Hopkins? Absolutely. But using a lot of cap space to get him might not be the smartest move.
Might Hopkins take less?
Could the three-time All-Pro eventually realize that the market will not support the double-digit compensation he seems to want — and take less to play for a contender like the Chiefs or Bills? That’s also possible.
If no other team will pay Hopkins what he believes he is worth, then the door will be open for the Chiefs to negotiate an incentive-laden contract to acquire him — most of which wouldn’t count against the salary cap until 2024.
The problem is that there are probably too many teams that would be willing (and able) to pay Hopkins what he wants. So while it remains possible that he could wind up in Kansas City, we have to consider it unlikely to happen — even if the Chiefs are arguably his best fit.