I'm a simple Patriots fan. Whenever I see a notable player hit free agency or the trade block, I say, "He's a Patriot I'm afraid." Whether or not that materializes in reality is irrelevant. It's just tradition at this point much like the meme of Larry Fitzgerald at the Logan Airport Hertz for any other player. With that said, we may have a live situation on our hands. One DeAndre Hopkins is set for an official meeting with the Patriots, just a matter of days after the former All-Pro receiver meets with the Tennessee Titans.
I've happened to come around to the key group of receivers on this team the deeper into the year we go, but the fact that Bill Belichick is bringing him in for an in-person visit would lead me to believe there is some real high-level interest on the Patriots' end, something Ian Rappaport also alluded to on the NFL Network on Friday. Furthermore, if that's the case they shouldn't let him leave Massachusetts, let alone Foxborugh without a signed deal, do whatever it takes.
Meeting the Criteria
This little quote from Hopkins on the I AM ATHLETE podcast a couple of weeks ago has made the rounds locally in the last 24-ish hours, but for those who haven't seen it, this is what he said he's looking for in a new home.
"What I want is stable management upstairs. I think that's something I haven't really had the past couple years in my career, coming from Houston...A QB who loves the game, a QB who brings everyone on board with him, which is not just himself but the people around him...And a great defense. I think defense wins championships, for me, that's the key, you gotta have a great defense, you gotta have a great d-line."
So of the teams that make some level of sense for Hopkins, have financial flexibility, and haven't already publically ruled themselves out of the race (the Jets, Lions, Cowboys, and Jaguars have all stated to some degree that they're good with what they have), and hit those benchmarks, the Patriots have a very good case to make to Hopkins. Dont, think I need to say much about the front office structure at this point. Say what you want about Mac Jones, but he doesn't strike me as someone who isn't down for the cause, and his teammates have only spoken glowing about him as a player and leader. And I'll have some more thoughts on this once mini-camp wraps, but I think this Patriots defense's floor is being a top 10 unit in football. So make that check one two and three.
Now for the financial hurdles. Despite the NFL salary cap being an objective myth as proven by the New Orleans Saints and GM Micky Loomis over the last decade, cash spending is a real thing that needs to be addressed no matter what. Belichick pointed this out after the 2022 season ended, but the Patriots were one of the lowest cash-spending teams in football, and their 2023 cash number is currently third lowest in the league. With that being said, Ian Rappaport went out of his way on the NFL Network to say that the Patriots "seem to be willing to spend on some level."
What a DeAndre Hopkins Contract Could Look Like
While a one-year pact for Hopkins feels like the most likely outcome no matter where he lands, I'm going to advocate for a three-year deal that's really a two-year deal with a void at the end to commit cap shenanigans here. As things stand, Juju Smith-Schuster and Tyquan Thornton are the only two receivers with tenure slated to be back in 2024, so I don't think committing to Hopkins at ages 31 and 32 is that bad at all frankly.
As far as money goes, the recent Odell Beckham Jr deal with the Ravens may be a decent place to start. The two sides agreed to a one-year $15,000,000 deal featuring four void years, and an $11,000,000 dead cap charge in 2024. Based on the fact Beckham missed all of last year with an ACL tear among some other factors, Hopkins and his camp could, and probably should, ask for more than that, and the Patriots should oblige.
Anything near or beyond what Stefon Diggs' average annual value stands ($24,000,000) is probably the hard stopping point, but anything in the $17,000,000 to $21,000,000 range should be an immediate deal for the Patriots with Hopkins. Also, don't worry about the cash or cap spending beyond this year. On top of the cap being a figment of the league office's collective imagination, the Patriots have a ton of room to work with starting next March and they can pull off all kinds of shenanigans to move money around.
The Scouting Report
It's no secret by now that Hopkins missed a chunk of time in 2022 via a suspension for PEDS, but his numbers were good in a nine-game sample size given that he only had four full games with a healthy Kyler Murray. In total, he put up 64 catches for 717 yards and three touchdowns. Additionally, Hopkins had a pair of fumbles in that span, one of which went for a touchdown against, you guessed it, the New England Patriots.
As far as what you can physically see with Hopkins, Taylor Kyles managed to throw together a reel of every single target Hopkins against man coverage, and my conclusion is this. Is Hopkins someone that can consistently separate against press anymore? Probably not, as you can see below, Hopkins wasn't able to create much room for himself at all, which led to a ton of tight window situations. On top of his age, Hopkins also came into 2022 off a torn MCL late in 2021 which likely didn't help things out in fairness. Also worth noting that Hopkins was 100 percent held on at least three of these plays so it's good to know he can still draw DPI flags.
Now did the lack of separation ability cripple Hopkins' ability to make things happen? As you can see, the answer is no. His natural talent, hands, and feel for things still shine through even when the coverage is as tight as it was. In other words, the fastball may not hit 98 on the gun anymore, but it does enough to paint corners and get outs. His work on hitches and back-shoulder fades was as good as it gets, so you have a good base to work off of, and I know just the play where he could help out, but more on that in a minute.
Not that Hopkins can't be a true No. 1 in this offense, but I wouldn't expect him to be the first-team All-Pro lock he was in Houston, which is perfectly fine. Bringing him would most likely render Devante Parker expendable given their roles, but that's a move worth making. Hopkins still has gas in the tank and would be the final piece to this offensive puzzle. Also, him running out wide in place of the aforementioned Parker here on the greatest play call/design of our time in 'Hoss Juke' (the play the Patriots ran three downs in a row to effectively win Super Bowl 53) in 11 personnel would be tremendous. The audible check into it is "Jordan" for a reason folks.
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