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D-Hop, we hardly knew you.
The Cardinals officially moved on from wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins this week, ending a mere three-year tenure that included incredible highs and just as many lows.
Acquired in a steal of a deal from the Houston Texans in 2020 because that team had tired of his act and he wanted a new contract, Hopkins was everything expected in 2020, electrifying everyone with incredible production, including the never-to-be-forgotten Hail Murray against the Buffalo Bills.
In his first seven seasons with the Texans, Hopkins missed only two games. Sadly, that wasn’t the case for his final two years in Arizona.
He injured his hamstring in 2021, coincidentally in a game against the Texans, the same one where defensive end J.J. Watt shredded his shoulder. The Cardinals moved to 7-0 in that game, but they were never the same afterward, losing six of their final 10 games.
Hopkins missed three because of the balky hamstring and then was absent down the stretch after injuring his knee against the Rams.
Then came the 2022 disaster in which his actions drastically changed the direction of the season. Shortly before the draft, the Cardinals learned Hopkins would be suspended for the first six games of the season after violating the NFL performance enhancing drugs policy.
He continually insisted he never put banned substances in his body, but every player knows they are responsible for whatever they ingest.
Knowing the receivers room would be compromised for the difficult stretch of games to begin the season, rather than exercise their first-round pick on center Tyler Linderbaum, who would have been cover for the uncertain status of Rodney Hudson, the Cardinals traded the pick to the Ravens for wide receiver Marquise Brown.
Hudson eventually decided to play instead of retiring, but lasted only four games because of a bum knee. The Cardinals were 2-2 then, but won only two of their final 13 games with Hudson watching. In 2021, the Cardinals were 9-3 when Hudson played and 2-3 when he didn’t.
Meanwhile, with the anticipation of Hopkins and Brown finally playing together in Week 7, Brown was injured late in the Week 6 game against Seattle.
Hopkins was later hampered again by a hamstring injury in a few games and then sat out the final two games, ostensibly because of a knee issue.
By the end of the season, there was never even one game where Hopkins, Brown and Rondale Moore were on the field in the same game. There were big plans for Moore to replace the departed Christian Kirk, but he was injured during the Thursday practice prior to the season opener. Moore missed three games, returned to play eight, and was then injured again. As a rookie, he missed three games.
That set the stage for several months of offseason drama around Hopkins, but the Cardinals never found a trade partner willing to part with suitable compensation thanks to his contract, age (31 in four days), his penchant for not practicing and the fact that he’s played only 19 games the last two seasons.
Of course, the reality is that the Cardinals, even with Hopkins’ warts, are a worse team without him.
When asked Thursday if there is a player emerging to make up for his loss, coach Jonathan Gannon diverted the question by saying, “Right now in June, I’m not really looking to replace D-Hop. What I’m looking for is to play together winning football as a team. And that’s not just the receiver room, that’s the tight-end group, the O-line group, quarterback group, running-back group, the defense, special teams, the kicking.
“Football is never about one guy, never has, never will be. And we all got to pull our weight.”
He’s not totally wrong about that, but the cavalier approach to his departure isn’t realistic.
Noting that the decision to release Hopkins was because of “all the factors that were in play, we just felt it was the best thing for the team to play with who we have,” Gannon added, “I mean, it’s really no big deal to me. We were operating under the premise that he was going to be here. And now we’re not. So, we’re moving on.”
No big deal? Really?
Running back James Conner said, “He was our brother, (will) continue to be, but I know he’s gonna have, he’s already had a heck of a career and wherever he goes next he’s going to make plays for them. So yeah, wishing him the best, but somebody’s gotta step up. We’ll miss his leadership, but somebody’s got to step up into (a) leadership role as well.”
Life without Hopkins
That remains the overriding question as the Cardinals wrap up OTAs next week, conduct the mandatory minicamp June 13-15 and then adjourn until training camp.
Surely, Gannon has to support who remains in the receivers room, but the top three returning players – Brown, Moore, Greg Dortch and Andre Baccellia – are all 5-foot-10 or shorter. Moore and Dortch are 5-foot-7 and Brown 5-foot-9.
Hopkins is 6-foot-1. Six other receivers on the roster are over 6-foot, but only Zach Pascal (6-foot-2), Auden Tate (6-foot-5) and Javon Wims (6-foot-4) have ever caught passes in an NFL game. The other three are rookies Michael Wilson (6-foot-2), Daniel Arias (6-foot-3) and Brian Cobbs (6-foot-1).
While Gannon surely understands the importance of having high-caliber and relatively tall receivers, he also has to support who he has.
After all, as previously the defensive coordinator of the Eagles, he knows how instrumental wide receivers A.J. Brown (6-foot-1) and DeVonta Smith (6-foot) were to the team’s offense last season. They combined for 183 receptions, 2,692 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Gannon said Thursday, “I’m very pleased with our receivers right now. (Passing game coordinator/receivers coach) Drew Terrell and Whip (pass game specialist Spencer Whipple) are doing an excellent job with those guys. (What) we talk about with our guys is, if you carve out a role for yourself, we’ll use you in that role. I like how they’re working. I like how they’re improving with the details of their position.
“Get open and catch the ball is the major thing, but I like what they’re doing in the run and pass game. Drew deploys them different ways, so mentally they’re sharp, they’re on it because you can only do that if they can handle it mentally. I really like where that room’s at.”
As for how opposing teams will change how they defend the Cardinals without Hopkins, Gannon said, “Obviously, he’s a great player. But with the guys that we have on the team right now, they present some challenges to the defense with their skill sets. And that makes it tough from a defensive perspective because you can’t do certain things that you always want to do because of some of their skill sets.
“So, I think just making sure we evaluate that with the guys that we have out there, getting the best 11 out there — who’s our one, two, three, four, five, six — and putting (those) guys in position to make plays for us and use their skill sets accordingly, I think we’ll be OK.”
However, OK likely isn’t good enough, especially if the plan is to run the ball more.
Keep this in mind: The departure of Hopkins with his 145 NFL games played and starts removes 853 receptions, 11,298 yards (13.2 average) and 71 touchdowns. In his career, he has averaged 5.9 receptions and 77.9 yards per game.
The seven players with any career receptions total, yes, total, 673 catches, 7,549 yards (11.2 average) and 48 touchdowns with 2.6 receptions and 28.9 yards per game.
Brown and Pascal are the only ones with more than 100 career catches and 1,000 yards.
Brown: 58/51 games/games started; 262-3070-11.7-24 with 4.5 catches and 52.9 yards per game.
Pascal: 81/46; 165-2038-12.4-16 with 2.0 receptions and 25.2 yards per game.
The other five:
Moore: 22/15; 95-849-8.9-2 with 4.3 catches and 38.6 yards per game.
Tate: 35/12; 61-799-13.1-2 with 1.7 receptions and 22.8 yards per game.
Dortch: 23/6; 55-482-8.8-2 with 2.4 catches and 21.0 yards per game.
Wims: 34/7; 28-266-9.5-2 with 0.8 receptions and 7.8 yards per game.
Baccellia: 8/0; 7-45-6.4-0 with 0.9 and 5.6 yards per game.
It’s not a pretty picture, no matter what colors Gannon uses to paint with. The hope is that a rookie like Wilson can quickly show he belongs in the NFL.
Still, it all points to a 2024 offseason where the priority will be to use much of the available cap room or a high draft choice on a wide receiver that can truly stress NFL defenses.
Don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions on Twitter @hbalzer721 or email me: email@example.com
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