Wow. Hardly anyone saw this coming.
In perhaps the biggest trade of this free agency period, the Houston Texans exchanged star wide receiver, Deandre Hopkins, for running back David Johnson of the Arizona Cardinals. Houston also gave up a fourth-round draft pick, while Arizona forked over second and fourth-round picks.
This move comes after Hopkins threatened to “hold out” (not show up to offseason training activities or training camp) if he didn’t get a new contract with increased pay. The Texans and General Manager Bill O’Brien were, evidently, not willing to budge on this issue. According to Texas Sports Nation, the all-pro receiver wanted in the region of 19 to $20 million a year, which would have made him the joint-highest paid player in his position.
O’Brien has a history of trading away star players who make a fuss about their contracts. The trading of former first overall pick, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, to the Seattle Seahawks for two back-up edge rushers and mid-round draft picks, exemplifies this record.
The offloading of Hopkins was likely also due to increased friction between himself and O’Brien, who thought the receiver carried too much influence over the Texans roster and berated Hopkins on the issue shortly before the trade was finalized.
Regardless of the reasoning, the move will have massive implications regarding the power structure of the NFL in the upcoming season, not least for the Arizona Cardinals.
Arizona has managed to add a superstar to an offense in dire need of fresh talent. Though wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has undoubtedly proven his effectiveness over the course of his 18-year career, he is not the future of the team.
Sophomore quarterback Kyler Murray, will compliment Hopkins perfectly, as he formerly caught passes from Deshaun Watson, who, like Murray, is quick on his feet and effective when throwing outside of the pocket. Coupled with a receiving core of Fitzgerald, Christain Kirk, and running back Kenyan Drake, who recently signed a one-year deal with the team, the Cardinals have put themselves back in contention for the top spot in the NFC West, which they have not won since 2015. They will compete with the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers, who both made the playoff last season. The 49ers are a special case, as they represented the NFC in their Super Bowl loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
However, the Texans, coming off of a short-lived playoff run in 2019, will surely face an uphill battle in the AFC South. Hopkins has had a total of 54 touchdown passes since entering the league in 2013, and has been a favorite target of Watson since his admission in 2017. Though Kenny Stills and the addition of veteran receiver Randal Cobb this offseason will provide Watson with suitable targets in 2020, each pales in comparison to the skill and production that Hopkins offered the team.
The addition of David Johnson, while adding a big-name to a depleted running back core, ran for less than 345 yards in the 2019 season, all while earning over 10 million dollars a season, making him the third highest-paid running back in the league. Johnson hasn’t run for more than 1,000 yards since 2016 and has lingering questions surrounding his durability after multiple injuries throughout his NFL career.
The Texans also lack a first-round draft pick this year, after sending it to the Miami Dolphins in exchange for wide receiver Kenny Stills and offensive lineman Laremey Tunsill, which, given Stills’ mere 561 yards in 2019, and Tunsill accounting for the highest number of penalties in the league (18), is a questionable move. This trade is yet another example of O’Brien’s controversial track-record as a general manager, whose trade history has consistently favored everyone but the team for whom he works.
Meanwhile, while the Texans have been exporting their talent, their division rivals have bolstered their rosters with top free agents, with the Indianapolis Colts improving with additions of quarterback Phillip Rivers and defensive tackle Deforest Buckner, and the Tennessee Titans proving themselves competitive in their playoff run last year.