The first major move of NFL free agency wasn’t a signing but a head-scratching swap of offensive stars.
The Texans traded wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, one of the NFL’s premier playmakers, to the Cardinals on Monday in exchange for running back David Johnson. The Texans, long in the market for a workhorse back, are receiving a second-round pick in 2020 and a fourth-rounder in 2021 with Johnson and sending a fourth-rounder in 2020 with Hopkins to the Cardinals.
It was a stunning move immediately criticized by NFL analysts, players and fans alike on social media. The Texans do not have a general manager, and coach Bill O’Brien seems to be calling the shots.
Hopkins, 27, has three years remaining on a five-year, $81 million contract that underpays him compared to the wide receiver contracts since signed. He is a four-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro whose average season is 90 catches, 1,228 yards and more than seven touchdowns.
After a slew of other trades to try to make a Super Bowl run this season, the Texans did not have a top-50 pick in the 2020 or 2021 drafts. They now have No. 40 overall in possibly the most receiver-loaded draft of all time.
Hopkins goes from pairing with one of the NFL’s best young quarterbacks in Deshaun Watson to another in Offensive Rookie of the Year Kyler Murray. He will get to play at least one season alongside future Hall of Fame receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
For Watson, he loses a top target, but gets to hand off and throw to the dual threat Johnson, who led the NFL with 2,128 yards from scrimmage in 2016. He only has made 26 starts and rushed for 1,296 in the three seasons since then, struggling to get back to top form after a serious knee injury in 2017.
Johnson has two more years remaining on his contract. Carlos Hyde rushed for 1,070 yards to lead the Texans last season.
The trade is a good look for Giants general manager Dave Gettleman, who looks like he landed a king’s ransom from the Browns (safety Jabrill Peppers and first- and third-round picks in the 2019 NFL Draft) for disgruntled wide receiver Odell Beckham last season. Hopkins has outperformed the injury-prone Beckham.
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