Bill Belichick loves one of the NFL’s top receivers – who could be a free agent this spring
December 14th, 2022
As Mac Jones and the Patriots offense continue to struggle to make big plays, the ongoing conversation about the team adding a ‘true No. 1 wide receiver’ is building up once again. It’s a conversation fans and media have been having for a few years now, and figures to continue into this offseason.
While drafting high at the position is certainly an option, many have pointed to the model used by teams like the Eagles, Bills, and Dolphins – trading for already proven star receivers to help their young quarterbacks. So, who would be the top options available this offseason. Jerry Jeudy of the Broncos and Brandon Aiyuk of the Niners have been cited as potential trade targets given they will be entering the final year of their rookie contracts, but could the Patriots swing even bigger?
Of course, pulling off such a move would cost the team a lot – both in assets in the trade to acquire the player and financially if the player wants a new contract. Is there a player that fits that bill, that the coaching staff and front office would see as being worth making such a move? After some comments from Bill Belichick over the last week, there just may be.
Leading up to the Patriots’ Monday night game against the Arizona Cardinals, Belichick had no shortage of praise for star Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. “He’s got tremendous ball skills. He catches everything, has great hands, and he’s long so he’s never covered. Even if he’s covered, there’s a place where the ball can be that he can get it and still make the catch,” Belichick said last week. “He’s every bit as good as anybody I’ve ever coached against.”
Belichick wasn’t just saying that either. Prior to the Cardinals game, HBO caught Belichick in a mic’d up moment, sharing some of that praise with Hopkins directly.
"I'm glad we only have to play you every four years."
“I’m glad we only have to play you every four years, man,” Belichick says to Hopkins, who replies “I love you, man.”
“You too, you too,” Belichick responded.
“What a career you’re having,” Belichick continued. “You missed half the season – still gonna lead the league in receiving.” (Through his seven games this season, Hopkins ranks fifth in the NFL averaging 93.3 yards per game).
Hopkins responded with a very Patriots-sounding answer, saying “you know I do my job, man. Trying to get better.”
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – NOVEMBER 29: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots talks with DeAndre Hopkins #10 of the Arizona Cardinals after the game at Gillette Stadium on November 29, 2020 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
O.K., so Belichick likes Hopkins. Sorry – loves Hopkins. But, what are the chances the 30-year-old five-time All Pro will be available this offseason?
That’s actually a possibility given Hopkins’ contract. Currently in the third year of a five-year deal, Hopkins has a cap hit of just over $15 million this season. That number jumps to $30.7 million next year though, and $26.2 million the year after that. Those are tough numbers for a Cardinals team that has 30 players on expiring contracts – including wide receiver Hollywood Brown and pass rusher Zach Allen – and are projected to have around $25 million in cap space next year, per OverTheCap.com. At the same time, Hopkins’ cash due is less than what those cap numbers reflect.
One way or another, Hopkins’ contract situation will need to be addressed by Arizona this offseason. There is an out in his deal, which would allow the team to open up $8 million in cap space by releasing or trading him before June 1. They could also restructure his deal to create room.
If the Cardinals were to go the trade route, what would a deal look like? When they themselves traded for Hopkins prior to the 2020 season, they acquired him along with a fourth-round pick from the Houston Texans in exchange for a second-round pick, future fourth-round pick, and running back David Johnson. Hopkins then signed an extension – the part of his deal that kicks in starting next year. On one hand, that was seen as an underpay at the time and the value of wide receivers on the trade market has only gone up since. Yet that’s the price that was set, and Hopkins is now three years older and after his first year in Arizona has struggled to stay on the field the last two.
So overall yes, there is a chance Hopkins is available this offseason. One way or the other the Patriots would likely need to give him a new contract, and a trade might not come cheap either. But after seeing how highly Belichick spoke of him this week, and to his face, it certainly seems like he could be a player the team would see as worth it.
Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarthor via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.