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Ahead of Houston, revisiting the DHop "Nuk drop" that netted the Cardinals their All-Pro receiver

Johnny Venerable Avatar
October 22, 2021

Nearly two years later and repeating the terms of the deal, especially out loud, still sounds completely made up.

All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins traded for pick 40, an exchange of fourth-rounders and running back David Johnson.

The deal that consummated back on March 16th of 2020 remains one of the most lopsided trades in modern NFL history, mostly because even the most modest football fans understood how completely absurd it was when it happened. Unlike most trades, which require a bit of patience before choosing a winner, the Hopkins deal was so laughably one-sided from the moment it broke that it basically set a timer on former GM and head coach Bill O’Brien’s career.

For those in need of a refresher of how this all came to be, the Cardinals entered the 2020 offseason in desperate need of a difference maker on the outside at receiver. Franchise legend Larry Fitzgerald was finally starting to show his age while youngsters Christian Kirk and Andy Isabella did not possess the necessary traits in order to be a dominant outside receiver.

It was common knowledge that GM Steve Keim and company would go big sea diving in their pursuit of a number one receiver for then 22-year old Kyler Murray. What no one expected, however, was for Cardinal brass to land what equated to Jaws using nothing more than a tree branch and an old shoelace as their weaponry.

The foundational talks that led to Hopkins’ eventual arrival in the desert began at the league’s NFL Scouting Combine, where Keim reportedly began to court O’Brien on the idea of shipping him his disgruntled receiver. It’s no secret that O’Brien and Hopkins famously butted heads over the latter’s continued pursuit of a new deal. For whatever reason, Texans ownership foolishly allowed their marginal head coach to also act as the team’s decision maker when it came to both personnel acquisitions and salary cap implications.

It also did not help that O’Brien privately criticized Hopkins’ practice habits while believing his standout pass catcher had “too much influence” in the Houston locker room.

For these reasons and more, it should come to no surprise that O’Brien was slowly coming around on the idea of dealing Hopkins to the desert. Keim and O’Brien were even seen out to dinner in Indianapolis, which led to speculation that the parameters of the Hopkins deal were done weeks before the start of free agency.

It’s clear now that the former man in charge of the Houston Texans had a personal vendetta against DeAndre Hopkins. That’s how this deal got done.

Which then leads to a different and probably much more important question to ask when assessing this historic acquisition.

Even if O’Brien was dead set on trading away Hopkins, why did he settle for such an egregiously one-sided deal with Keim and the Cardinals?

This is the part of the story where an overabundance of credit must be given to Keim, who for the second consecutive combine, left Indianapolis with a plan to acquire a generational talent (Kyler Murray, 2019).

Keim’s ability to slowly convince O’Brien into thinking that Hopkins was not only expendable, but that in exchange he would “gift” him an aging and expensive David Johnson is truly unbelievable. We can’t forget that while he’s now typically thought of as a complete buffoon, O’Brien did had five winning seasons in seven years as Houston’s head coach. He also came from the Bill Belichick coaching tree, which at it’s worst, should have secured him numerous personnel contacts around the NFL.

Is it conceivable to think that O’Brien never once considered picking up the phone and putting out feelers for Hopkins outside of the Cardinals?

Depending on what you choose to believe, and there’s a lot out there, the logical conclusion is that O’Brien merely wanted to ship Hopkins to the NFC and liked the idea of adding what he believed was a bell cow back in Johnson.

He also had no interest in paying Hopkins the $54.5 million dollar extension the All-Pro would eventually receive from Arizona.

When the deal was finally announced back on the faithful morning of March 16th, it predictably sent shockwaves around the NFL landscape. ESPN Insider Adam Schefter, who broke the story, layered the news in a series of tweets that made the end result all the more indefensible on the part of Houston.

If you were like me and ferociously scrolling through Twitter over this 16-minute span, you likely experienced every possible emotion imaginable. For starters, it was reasonable to assume that whomever agreed to acquire David Johnson and his bloated contract would receive ample compensation in return.

The logical comparison to this notion was when the Texans famously shipped QB Brock Osweiler and a second-round pick to Cleveland in what was largely considered a salary dump. Back in 2017, Osweiler was owed $16 million guaranteed and instead of paying him for the upcoming season, Houston decided to pay Cleveland to make him go away.

Which is why many, including myself, assumed that Houston would be REQUESTING draft compensation in order to take on Johnson’s $13 million dollar salary for 2020. Perhaps the Cardinals would be forced to ship out their third or fourth-round pick in exchange for their salary cap relief?

Nope, it was all for Nuk Hopkins.

What makes this whole situation all the more fascinating to look back on was that free agency took place roughly five days after the unofficial start of the COVID-19 national pandemic. Which meant, had O’Brien seen his ass become completely charred on social media, he easily could have reneged on the trade before waiting on the league to eventually approve it.

The deal could not be made official until both Hopkins and Johnson were able to successfully pass physicals, which at the start of the pandemic, was basically impossible. Having seen the public backlash, following a near 30-day wait, O’Brien could have purposely failed David Johnson’s April 15th physical at Houston’s football headquarters.

Yet he didn’t and that’s how you know this whole thing with Hopkins was personal from the start. It was almost as if O’Brien wanted the perception of Hopkins’ value to be diminished as a result of the deal.

So in the weeks that would come, while the Cardinals were occupied celebrating their newest franchise cornerstone, O’Brien was busy using his newly acquired pick 40 to select TCU defensive tackle Ross Blacklock.

Never heard of him? Get in line.

Since he was drafted, the Texas native has started just once in 18 opportunities with Houston, totaling a mere one sack in the process.

As for Johnson, following a promising start to begin 2020, the former Cardinal great quickly showed the erosion that had previously made it a priority for Keim to ship him out. During his time as a Houston Texan, David Johnson has averaged roughly 43 yards per game on the ground.

He is currently the fourth highest paid player on a Texans team that sports a 1-5 record and fields what equates to an expansion level roster.

Like Johnson, O’Brien has also never fully recovered (at the NFL level) from the infamous trade. Following an 0-4 start to begin the 2020 season, ownership promptly fired their head coach/GM combo en route to their current catastrophic state. O’Brien now works under Nick Saban as the offensive coordinator for the University of Alabama.

Amongst all this dysfunction and chaos stands DeAndre Hopkins, who would go on to immediately produce for the Cardinals as an All-Pro both on and off the field. Through 22 games since the trade, Hopkins averages roughly 81 receiving yards per contest and is currently on pace for a career best 16 touchdowns this season.

Looking ahead to this Sunday’s matchup between Houston and Arizona, logic would suggest that Hopkins would prefer to torture the franchise that aimlessly cast him aside. Yet knowing the former Clemson product, Hopkins likely feels pity on an organization that has fallen so far from grace since their AFC Divisional appearance back in 2020.

That also happened to be Hopkins’ last game as a member of the Houston Texans, several weeks before Bill O’Brien dropped a “Nuk” on his own franchise.

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