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Thoughts About the Hopkins/Johnson Trade

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NFL: AFC Wild Card-Buffalo Bills at Houston Texans Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In all likelihood, the seeds of yesterday’s shocking trade that sent the Cardinals’ star-crossed RB David Johnson, his full salary, the #40 pick in the 2020 draft and a 2021 4th round pick to the Texans for disgruntled All Pro WR DeAndre Hopkins and a 2020 4th round pick, were planted a few weeks back at the NFL Combine.

It was no secret that the Texans’ GM/HC Bill O’Brien was open to listening to offers for Hopkins—-in fact, O’Brien was entertaining offers for Hopkins before the trading deadline last year.

It also was no secret that the Cardinals were looking to trade RB David Johnson so that they could recover some of his salary to put toward re-signing RB Kenyan Drake, a player whom head coach Kliff Kingsbury has deemed a “perfect fit” for his offense.

Furthermore, it is was no secret that most pundits believed the biggest and perhaps only suitor for David Johnson would be the Tampa Bay Bucs because of Bruce Arians’ affinity for the supernova of the 2016 all-purpose RB galaxy.

What seems very likely (at least to me) is that back at the Combine Bill O’Brien had a cup of coffee or a couple of whiskeys with Bruce Arians.

You see—-for one, BOB and BA have a lot in common. They are old school offensive oriented head coaches and play callers.

For two—-their coaching styles are very similar. If you watched Hard Knocks back when the Texans were the team of interest, BOB held nothing back, which thankfully is ok on HBO because anyone can drop f-bombs all they want.

So—-when the two head coaches met, BOB asked BA just how interested he and the Bucs are in trading for David Johnson. And what BA likely said was that the Bucs are primarily focused on their QB situation and that 2018 2nd round pick Ronald Jones came on strong averaging 4.2 yards per carry (724 yds.) and 10.0 yards per reception (309 yds.).

BOB and BA have a history of talking about players—-back when Tyrann Mathieu agreed to take $1M less than the Cardinals were offering to sign the Texans, BOB vouched for the trade saying that when he asked BA about Mathieu, BA “stood on the table” for him.

Which is ironic because Tyrann’s last two years making $31M with BA were about as lackluster as the team’s combined 15-16-1 record. But, just the same, when BA loves a player, that typically ain’t going to change.

Mathieu’s one-year tenure with the Texans was a very favorable one. And who knows—-maybe BA and BOB agreed that had the Honey Badger stayed in Texas, the odds would have been far stronger that the Texans wouldn’t have blown their 24-0 lead in Kansas City during this year’s divisional round of the playoffs.

But, now that the conversation turned back to David Johnson—-one can easily imagine the praise that BA would offer O’Brien about DJ. Let’s remember that BA not only predicted that DJ had the RB talent to be a Hall of Famer, but that BA was also convinced that DJ could be one of the top receivers in the NFL, if he was ever switched to WR.

It would not be at all surprising—-if BA explained to O’Brien that Steve Keim did DJ a disservice by pairing him in 2018 with OC Mike McCoy, who spent the off-season saying how he was going to take full advantage of Johnson’s uniquely diverse skills as a runner and receiver—-only to discover that once the real games began, McCoy did little more than run DJ over and over into a thick brick wall.

That’s a pretty sure-fire way for a coach to take the romance out of playing RB.

It was likely that at this point BA would have offered O’Brien a blueprint of how to coach DJ.

When you think about this—-if there is one HC in the NFL other than BA himself who could coach up DJ and ride him like a thoroughbred—-he’s Bill O’Brien.

One could imagine BA telling BOB, man, look at what you got out of Carlos Hyde last season—-over 1,000 yards at 4.4 yards per carry—-and with DJ’s versatility you could possibly get twice that figure in rushing and receiving combined.

Whatever discussions BOB had about David Johnson at the Combine—-BOB came out of there convinced not only that he was the right coach to get DJ to return to his 2016 form—- but that having DJ for 2 years at an average salary of $9.5M a year could actually turn out to be a bargain.

Peter King said yesterday that he knew of another team who was willing to part with a late 1st round pick for DeAndre Hopkins—-and while King didn’t divulge what team it was—-today there have been reports that the Patriots and Bill Belichick were offering their #23 pick.

So—-why didn’t O’Brien hop on that offer and build on it?

Ironically, it may have been something BOB learned while working for BB, that early 2nd round picks are just as valuable as late 1st round picks, especially now that the 5th round options for 1st rounders can be has high for top performers as the franchise tags figures—-let’s not forget that Belichick traded both Chandler Jones and Jimmy Garoppolo for early 2nd round picks.

The early 2nd round pick that Belichick got for Chandler Jones enabled him to draft G Joe Thuney—-who was the top rated interior offensive lineman in this year’s FA pool—-until the Patriots slapped the f-tag on him yesterday.

Thus, the #40 pick, plus the opportunity to acquire David Johnson was in BOB’s mind the better deal.

Yesterday, on Bickley and Marotta, they interviewed Aaron Wilson, the Texans’ beat writer and Wilson outlined the reasons why DeAndre Hopkins fell out of favor with Bill O’Brien.

Wilson said that it was a combination of Hopkins wanting a new contract (after collecting his $49M in guaranteed money and now no longer having any guaranteed money assigned to the final three years of his contract—-and that Hopkins wasn’t practicing during the week which “for an old-school coach like O’Brien was setting a poor example for the younger players on the team.” Wilson concluded that O’Brien started questioning whether Hopkins had evolved into a “ME” type of player.

When star players want and expect their lucrative contracts to be ripped up for new ones—-as well all know—-it sets a very tenuous precedent—-especially the very second all of the guaranteed money has been paid and there are three years left on the deal——especially on the advent of having to pay franchise QB Deshaun Watson and LT Laremy Tunsil.

Yes, it’s surprising that O’Brien accepted taking on all of David Johnson’s salary, that he didn’t demand that the Cardinals include one of their promising young WRs like Christian Kirk, Andy Isabella, Hakeem Butler or KeeSean Johnson, and that he was willing to throw in a 4th round pick in exchange for David Johnson, the #40 pick and the Cardinals’ 2021 4th round pick.

But—-what many people might be overlooking and misjudging here is perhaps one of the key conditions of the trade—-which is the Cardinals’ willingness to give DeAndre Hopkins a new contract—-a contract loaded with the new guaranteed money Hopkins wants.

With Amari Cooper just signing a 5 year $100M contract with $60M guaranteed, one has to wonder what DeAndre Hopkins and his agent are looking for. It certainly would have to exceed those numbers.

Many people today are comparing the Hopkins trade to what the Bills gave up to acquire Stefon Diggs, the main piece being the Bills’ 1st rounder—-but no other Day 1 or Day 2 picks were involved—-and Diggs’ contract has 4 years remaining at $11.5M, $12M, $12M and $12M, which the Bills may hold him to for a year, or two or for maybe the duration.

Diggs is very good, but he is not within whiff range of the rarefied air in which DeAndre Hopkins breathes.

People look at the 1st rounder the Vikings got from the Bills (#22 pick) and automatically assume it’s a better deal, but people are ignoring DeAndre Hopkins’ new contract expectations. The added 5th, 6th and 2021 4th round picks in the Diggs trade are crap shoots and potential fluff.

Chances are the Cardinals are going to have to pay DeAndre Hopkins something in the $22M a year range, which is almost twice Diggs’ annual salary.

Add to this the Cardinals’ decision to place the t-tag on RB Kenyan Drake and if Drake plays on the tag, the Cardinals will be investing over $30M on the two players, in addition to investing $27M on D.J. Humphries and Larry Fitzgerald. That’s $57M for 4 offensive players, which is over 14 of the entire salary cap.

Speaking of Fitzgerald, the acquisition of DeAndre Hopkins likely signals that this could well be Fitz’s final year in Arizona, unless Fitz would be willing to accept a new contract that is considerably less that his annual $11.7M.

It also signals the first time in Fitz’s 17 year career where he is not the #1 WR.

The good news talent-wise is that the Cardinals are passing the WR1 baton from one sure-fire Hall of Famer in Fitzgerald to a new WR1 who looks like another sure-fire first balloter.

It was very refreshing, amidst all of the superfluous gloating that Cardinals’ fans, players and radio hosts spewed out yesterday, to hear Fitz’s classy response to the Hopkins trade: “Excited to play with one of the best in the business. Also happy for David to get a fresh start so he can get back to his all pro potential.”

That is so classic Fitz—-to welcome his new teammate in DeAndre Hopkins while embracing and feeling for his former teammate, David Johnson, as Johnson is heading out the door.

As for Arizona’s proclivity to gloat, run victory laps and fawn over star spangles trades—-as it did with the Chandler Jones trade—-in this case highlighted by having a Cardinals’ player call Bill O’Brien a “bafoon” and with Dan Bickley going as far as writing:

“Thank you, city of Houston, for your daffy sports teams. The Astros gave up three top prospects while liberating the Diamondbacks from Zack Greinke’s stifling contract in 2019. The DeAndre Hopkins-for-David Johnson trade is easily among the worst in the 21st century, and everyone knows it but your head coach”

Perhaps people should go back a read Thee Iliad to remind yourselves of how Achilles angered the gods by dragging Hector’s dead body around the city of Troy in a victory lap. That didn't work out too well for Achilles, did it?

It also didn’t work out very well for Bruce Arians and the Cardinals when he publicly disparaged the Rams’ organization, did it?

Hubris is an ugly and inevitably self-destructive thing—-

To hear Gambo say on radio yesterday how he told the Houston media in an interview how quickly they would regret trading for David Johnson—-while basically calling Johnson a washed up 3rd stringer—-was, in my opinion, a disgrace.

In my opinion, Steve Keim is as much to blame for David Johnson’s demise as Johnson.

In light of some of the friction that has been building up between Bill O’Brien and Bill Belichick as manifested by this awkward post-game moment from last December after the Texans beat the Patriots—-one has to think O’Brien feels kind of happy to have shunned Belichick’s trade offer of a 1st round pick in favor of making the trade with the Cardinals—-a team that has irked Belichick, especially after the non-stop year to year gloating he’s heard from Cardinals fans and media over the Chandler Jones trade.

So, kudos to Steve Keim for mixing it up with the big boys and coming out with a total stud at WR in DeAndre Hopkins (assuming he wants to practice and be a team player), within an NFL that is changing ever by the minute—-in an NFL where Bill Belichick may be, in essence, handing Tom Brady off to Bruce Arians for a 2021 3rd round compensatory pick.