The Patriots have needed a dominant WR1 for a handful of years, but Bill Belichick has seemed uninterested in paying the cost to attain one up to this point. Because the receiver room continues to be an issue in New England, it is likely a priority come the offseason, whether by trade or the draft.
Generally, free agency would be the critical time to sign a receiver you want for your team and at your price. But the 2023 class of free-agent receivers doesn’t appear too promising, so the Patriots may need to explore the trade route as their best option.
Many names have floated as possible acquisitions for New England over the years. From Odell Beckham, Jr. to Chase Claypool and more. As they approach another offseason near the top of the league for cap space to spend, Belichick will have more options to consider when deciding how to improve the offensive roster.
Although several positions on the team need replacing, trading for a top receiver could be argued as one of the more essential pieces to focus on. With the massive trades of the last offseason in Tyreek Hill and DeVante Adams, Belichick will probably have to replicate those deals if he wants to finally bring in a WR1 that the team has been missing for several years.
And who could that receiver be? DeAndre Hopkins.
Before their matchup in Glendale, Belichick raved about the receiver, even comparing him to an NFL Hall of Fame wide receiver.
"“He’s got tremendous ball skills, he catches everything, great hands,” Belichick told New England reporters. “He’s never covered — even if he’s covered, there’s a place the ball can be that he can get it, still make the catch. Great coordination on the sidelines, and he doesn’t really look it but he’s a strong kid. You see him break tackles, he’s strong creating separation, yards after contact, extra yards around the goal line or the extra yard for a first down.He’s a smart football player, very savvy. His ball skills are at the very elite level with guys I’ve seen in this league. He’s up there with whoever the top guys are, the Cris Carters of the world and guys like that. He’s every bit as good as anybody I’ve ever coached against.”"
The possibility of the five-time Pro Bowler making his way to Foxboro heated up after the game this past Monday night. Because Arizona is the team currently filming Hard Knocks with HBO Max, the camera caught Hopkins and Belichick interacting before kickoff, exchanging pleasantries and sharing their admiration for each other.
After the video gained traction online, most questioned the idea of a Hopkins to the Patriots trade and whether it was a real possibility.
Fortunately, the answer is yes for those inquiring and hoping to see it happen. But it won’t be cheap.
Hopkins played for the Texans from 2013 – 2019 and established himself as one of the best receivers in the game. Early in the 2020 offseason, news of Houston trading their best player to the Cardinals shocked the NFL world. It was a trade that hadn’t been seen in quite some time, especially when the player was consistently at the top of the league with their performance.
Before the 2020 season began, it was announced that Hopkins had signed a two-year, $54.5 million contract extension with the Cardinals, keeping him in Arizona until the end of 2024. Because they are limited on cap space next season (projected to have around only $25 million) with 30 players heading to free agency, they may be open to trading Hopkins or cutting him before the 2023 season. But his contract does contain a no-trade clause which provides him more control over where the Cardinals could or couldn’t trade him if they chose that route.
How much money would need to be involved to afford Hopkins? The Patriots have plenty in the bank next season. As his contract currently stands, he is due $19.45 million in 2023, with a cap hit of $30.75 million, and $14.9 million in 2024, with a cap hit of $26.2 million.
Trading him seems like the best option for Arizona if they want to avoid a massive amount of dead cap while clearing a good amount in space. If traded after June 1st in 2023, the Cardinals would take on $11.3 million in dead cap for the next two seasons. But they would also save $19.45 million in 2023 in space to bring back some of those hitting free agency. The same results would come from a post-June 1st release, but considering the magnitude of the player that Hopkins is, it would be in their best interest to get some return rather than release him for nothing.
At this point in his contract, Hopkins has earned all his guaranteed money and $60.05 million of the possible $94.415 million his contract entails. This puts him in a similar situation that he was in before being traded from Houston. In the middle of a five-year contract with the Texans, he had already made close to all the money guaranteed to him in just three years, which led to him threatening a holdout if not given an extension. This is believed to have made Bill O’Brien trade him so early in the 2020 offseason and why the Cardinals immediately extended him before he even played a regular-season snap for the team.
As for the Patriots, they’ve shown interest in making a move for Hopkins in the past, making Belichick’s praise of the receiver even less surprising. It was reported in 2016 that New England was in contact with the Texans, hoping to trade Jamie Collins for Hopkins at the time. Obviously, the deal didn’t come to fruition, and the Patriots then dealt Collins to the Browns.
Now that Belichick could have another opportunity to get a receiver on his team that he truly admires, will he make a move? Will he willingly spend this offseason similarly to how frivolous he was during the 2021 offseason? Given how the Patriots’ season has gone this year, it seems the perfect time to do so.
There aren’t many players from the offense hitting the free agent market in a few months, with just Jakobi Meyers and Nelson Agholor slated to test the market. And if rookie running backs Pierre Strong Jr. and Kevin Harris continues to be implemented in games as they were in week 14, it’s unlikely we will see Damien Harris return for the 2023 season. Because a clear WR1 remains a missing piece for Mac Jones, adding Hopkins would be an incredible boost for the offense overall, especially for the quarterback, who has dealt with a difficult season this year.
Then the question of what the Cardinals would want in return if a trade were to take place. In the case of trading a receiver for a receiver, the Patriots have a few players they could choose from to include in the transaction. Kendrick Bourne and DeVante Parker signed through the 2023 season. Jonnu Smith has been another name floated around as a potential trade candidate, particularly when comparing his production to Hunter Henry’s.
Of course, they could also go another route and include a defensive player. But those they would be most likely to give up seem to give less return to Arizona than they presumably would want. They could also include draft picks, as that was most of their return when they traded David Johnson to Houston in the original trade.
If the right deal can be made and the Patriots can make the trade for Hopkins, the troubled offense would be immediately improved. Whether or not Hopkins, the Cardinals, or Belichick will be inclined to make a move will remain a question over the next several months.