UNITED STATES—Shockwaves circled through the NFL on May 26, when the Arizona Cardinals decided to cut loose former All-Pro wide receiver Deandre Hopkins for nothing.
After shopping Hopkins for much of the offseason, the Cardinals weren’t able to make a deal to swing the receiver, who requested a trade as uncertainty swirls around the franchise following the departure of head coach Kliff Kingsbury and general manager Steve Keim.
At 31 years old, Hopkins doesn’t want to suffer through another rebuild, so the Cardinals gave him permission to explore the open market. His contract had a full no-trade clause, so Hopkins would’ve had to sign off on any potential deal the Cardinals had in place before it could come to pass, making it even more difficult for Arizona to swing a trade.
Hopkins still hasn’t found a new home in the nearly two weeks following his release, which is a surprise for a player of his pedigree: many expected a team on the cusp of a Super Bowl like the Buffalo Bills or Kansas City Chiefs to snap him up immediately.
According to sports betting experts in Arizona, one of the reasons for the delay might be Hopkins’ performance in the last two seasons. Hopkins battled injuries in the latter half of the 2021 season and the team faded, barely making the playoffs before getting blown out by the Rams. To make matters worse, Hopkins’ 2022 season ended before it even really began, as he received a six game suspension last May for violating the NFL’s policy regarding performance enhancing drugs. Hopkins performed well enough once he returned from the ban, notching 64 receptions for 717 yards, but he wasn’t the red zone threat the Cardinals needed him to be, scoring just three touchdowns despite his ability as a vacuum pulling in jump balls.
The Cardinals weren’t able to find a trade partner for the final two years of Hopkins’ contract, which would’ve entailed nearly $60 million in salary owed for a player on the wrong side of 30 whose career could be in its final downswing. As such, they’re on the hook for more than $20 million in dead money this season, but they’ll get off scott free in 2024.
2023 is already looking like a lost season for Arizona, with quarterback Kyler Murray set to miss the first few weeks as he continues to recover from a late-season ACL tear. Protecting Murray should be the Cardinals’ number one priority, but they need to find him more targets too: Hollywood Brown was underwhelming in his first year in the desert, and with Hopkins gone the cupboard is pretty bare.
They picked Stanford receiver Michael Wilson in the third round, but could still use another target for Murray once he returns. Former pro bowl tight end Zach Ertz is working his way back from a knee injury as well, but he, like Hopkins, is going through a downswing and needs to prove that he can still be a receiving threat.
The Cardinals are expected to be one of the worst teams in the NFL this season, and the peak of the offseason is past, so needed additions to the receiver room may not come this season.
Hopkins, meanwhile, will likely need to take a pay cut to find a new home, given his recent struggles.
He’s been tied to the New England Patriots in recent reports, which could be awkward given his falling out with Patriots’ offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien—then head coach of the Houston Texans—which landed him in Arizona in the first place.
He’s already getting paid eight figures by the Cardinals this year, so the smart move would be for him to take a major pay cut to play for a contender and show he still has it while getting a chance to play for a championship… but Hopkins remains adamant that he wants a deal similar to the one fellow receiver Odell Beckham Jr. received from the Baltimore Ravens: one year, $15 million.