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Understanding strategy, mechanics behind Cardinals' unofficial release of DeAndre Hopkins

Howard Balzer Avatar
May 26, 2023

Was the Cardinals decision Friday to announce the release of wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins the result of the comments he made this week on the “I AM ATHLETE” podcast,” or simply a calculated and strategic move to do it heading into a holiday weekend when the NFL does not have a personnel notice on Friday or Monday?

Methinks the latter. Nothing official personnel-wise can occur until at least 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday.

The Cardinals were able to acquire center Rodney Hudson in a trade during the 2021 offseason when the Raiders made it known he would be released. On a lesser scale, it actually happened earlier this week when the Jaguars revealed that they would be cutting kicker Riley Patterson, only to trade him to the Lions before having to officially report it by the 4 p.m. ET deadline.

This offseason has been filled with persistent speculation about teams supposedly interested in acquiring Hopkins. However, the Cardinals clearly haven’t been offered what they believe is value or a trade would have already happened.

Complicating everything is that Hopkins is due to be paid $19.45 million this year and $14.915 million in 2024 although no portion of the salaries are guaranteed. He will also turn 31 on June 6 and has had injuries and a suspension that limited him to 19 games the past two seasons.

In addition, his history of not practicing or attending offseason workouts all play a part in what teams would be willing to give the Cardinals.

Revealing publicly their plan to release Hopkins sends a clear message to any interested teams: Give us your best offer so you won’t have to compete with other clubs. And the urgency is lowered with four days until Tuesday.

Of course, the flip side to that is if Hopkins is released, those salaries disappear and a new contract would have to be negotiated. A trade would be for Hopkins’ contract, which other teams likely don’t want to inherit unless he is willing to renegotiate.

The time between now and Tuesday would give teams the ability to see if they can reach an agreement with Hopkins to lower his cap figure. Any trade partner would need at least $19.45 million in cap space unless there is a restructured deal. None of the five teams prominently mentioned currently have enough. The Chiefs have only about $653,000 of cap space, while Buffalo has $1.5 million, Dallas $10.55 million, Baltimore $11.8 million and New England $14.1 million.

This is the reality of so much trade speculation that often fails to take into account the realities of the salary cap.

Meanwhile, it’s also possible the Cardinals could wait until next Friday (June 2) to release Hopkins so the remaining signing bonus proration of $21.078 million can be split evenly between this year and 2024.

However, the Cardinals are in good cap shape with $15.797 million space, which already accounts for a $5.1 million cap charge for first-round pick Paris Johnson Jr. The only unsigned choice is linebacker B.J. Ojulari, whose cap hit will be around $1.5 million.

Hopkins currently counts just under $30 million against the Cardinals cap, so even eating slightly more than $21 million in dead money would be a savings of about $8 million taking into account the $940,000 cap charge for another player that would enter the top 51. That means the Cardinals would have over $25 million of cap space, most of which would not be used this year, even with a potential restructuring of safety Budda Baker’s deal. That $25 million figure includes an additional net savings of about $1.3 million on June 2 when the salaries of Hudson and defensive end J.J. Watt are removed because they were released as post-Just 1 designations on March 15.

Whatever a team still has in cap room at the end of the 2023 league year can also be added to the cap in 2024.

Finally, if a trade can be consummated for, say, a fourth-or fifth-round pick, the Cardinals save face. Had they done that in April, critics would have claimed they should have gotten more. Now, after making it clear he won’t be playing in Arizona any longer, the narrative will be that at least they got something for a player they planned to release.

Where Hopkins ends up is anyone’s guess. When asked on the podcast what he hopes for at this stage of his career, Hopkins said, “What I want is stable management upstairs, that’s something I haven’t really had the past couple years of my career coming from Houston and then to Arizona. A QB who loves the game, a QB who brings everybody on board with him, not just himself but everybody around him . . . and a great defense. A great defense wins championships.”

What he really needs is a team willing to deal with his idiosyncrasies.

Don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions on Twitter or email me: howard@gophnx.com

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