Odegard: The Cardinals Have a DeAndre Hopkins Conundrum

Three weeks ago, DeAndre Hopkins published an Instagram Story that — despite an offseason of noisily trying to get traded — made it seem like he would return to the Cardinals without incident.

While Arizona spent months attempting to send the Pro Bowl wideout to a contender, no deal materialized, and Hopkins seemed to understand an always-tepid market had gone completely cold.

“I see everybody telling me to stay,” Hopkins said on the video. “Who said I want to go? Who said I wanted to leave? I’m out here working, baby.”

The Cardinals would have been happy to deal Hopkins in order to secure draft capital and get off his hefty contract, but the other 31 NFL teams made it clear that his current worth is not much higher than the $17 million average salary he will receive over the next two seasons.

So it felt fait accompli that Hopkins would go to training camp with the Cardinals and try his best to make a bad quarterback situation work well enough to get shipped off at the trade deadline.

Was it ideal? No. Was it a workable plan? Yes.

But then, Hopkins went on the I AM ATHLETE podcast with former NFL receiver Brandon Marshall on Monday.

While he may not have explicitly said the words, Hopkins made it readily apparent that he still dreams of a trade sooner rather than later.

He named three things he was looking for at this stage in his career: stable management, a quarterback who loves the game and a good defense. 

While he did defend the Cardinals in a follow-up question, rational minds understand that Arizona doesn’t meet that criteria, with a new GM and a bad defense. Hopkins said Kyler Murray loves the game, so that box would be checked, but “he’s injured.”

“Right now, I’m playing with Colt McCoy — who I love — but who knows?” Hopkins told Marshall and co-host Ashley Nicole Moss. “Right now I don’t currently have a Pro Bowl quarterback.”

There is nothing wrong with Hopkins wanting out, as there isn’t much sense in languishing on an NFL doormat in his age-31 season when championship hopes are fleeting for those near the end of their careers.

But it seems like Hopkins is unwilling to take a paycut to facilitate a trade, and if that’s the case, it could be a bumpy next few months, because there is no easy solution to this conundrum for the Cardinals.

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If Hopkins remains on the roster when training camp arrives, will he practice daily, as previously assumed, or use a different tact?

Consider this scenario: Hopkins chooses to hold in under the auspices of a vague injury, which keeps him sidelined until the first week of the season, resulting in tension and distraction.

When the opener arrives, Hopkins “heals,” takes the field with McCoy, Clayton Tune, or whomever — choose your bad backup quarterback du jour — and puts up pedestrian numbers for a handful of games. 

Hopkins’ base salary of $19.45 million would be fully guaranteed by being on the roster in Week 1, which would cost the Cardinals more than $1 million against the cap for every week he’s with the team.

Does a suitor emerge at the deadline, knowing that Hopkins could cost them $11 million or more the rest of the way? Ideally, yes, but it may not be a guarantee.

So then, Arizona either eats a bunch of salary to ship him out or pays the entire freight and keeps him on the roster of a dead-end team, biting into the 2024 salary cap space.

Hopkins’ deal runs through 2024, and his final year base salary of $14.9 million is more palatable, so there would likely be a taker next offseason. But it’s a tough financial pill to swallow for Arizona to keep him all season.

The other, increasingly realistic option? The Cardinals cut Hopkins after all avenues for a trade are exhausted.

That might mean allowing him to stay home during camp, a la Jimmy Garoppolo, in hopes that a contender has a sudden need for a wideout through injury.

But if nothing emerges, a post-June 1 cut would result in a dead cap hit of $10.5 million each of the next two seasons, with a savings of $19.5 million this year.

At this point, cutting Hopkins might be the best option. It’s far from ideal to release a receiver that still has top-10 potential, but the Cardinals have to consider the downside of that humongous base salary chipping away at their cap space during the season.

If Hopkins is off the books next year, it adds some flexibility in free agency to go along with all the draft capital that has been hoarded.

In a perfect world, the Cardinals get a draft pick for Hopkins while they simultaneously alleviate the salary issue.

But if he’s going to grumble for the next few months and threaten a hold-in during camp, a release may have to be the outcome.

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