The NFL world was stunned on Friday when the Arizona Cardinals released star wide out DeAndre Hopkins, less than three years after making him the league's highest-paid receiver. After months of reported trade talks, the Cardinals weren't able to strike a deal, so they opted to save $8.9 million this season while taking a dead cap hit of $21 million.
While the Buffalo Bills and the Kansas City Chiefs have emerged as the betting favorites to sign Hopkins, there are no shortage of potential landing spots for one of the NFL's top wide receivers.
There are at least a handful of viable under-the-radar destinations that make sense for D-Hop, including the Baltimore Ravens, Carolina Panthers and Houston Texans. But we're going to focus on the two sneaky teams that have the best chance to sign free agent DeAndre Hopkins—the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys.
2. Detroit Lions
Despite dealing with a game of musical chairs at quarterback due to injuries and missing six games due to a suspension for PEDs last season, DeAndre Hopkins still hauled in 64 receptions for 717 yards and three touchdowns. Despite his age and recent injury history, D-Hop would provide a big boost to the Lions’ roster, and he’d be a great fit in Ben Johnson’s offense.
While he wasn't among the five QBs that Hopkins mentioned he'd like to catch passes from, Jared Goff is coming off the best year of his career, throwing for 4,438 yards with 29 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Detroit may not currently check all three things on Hopkins' wish list, but the Lions are clearly trying to turn the corner on defense and have the pieces on offense to be a potential Super Bowl sleeper out of the NFC.
Amon Ra-St. Brown, a massive 2021 fourth-round draft steal, has already proven to be one of the league's top young receivers. The Lions also made a colossal investment in the 2022 NFL Draft, jumping up 20 spots in the first round to take Jameson Williams with the 12th overall pick. It was the biggest trade-up for a receiver since the Atlanta Falcons moved up for Julio Jones in 2011.
Williams missed most of last season recovering from a torn ACL and he’ll miss the first six games of the 2023 season for violating the league’s gambling policy. Why not take a page out of the playbook out of the Chiefs, Cincinnati Bengals and Seattle Seahawks and give Goff an embarrassment of riches to work with in the passing game?
The Lions also have Kalif Raymond and Josh Reynolds, who combined for 85 catches, 1,095 yards and three touchdowns last year as complimentary receivers. Detroit also brought back Marvin Jones Jr. on a one-year, $3 million contract. But he’s 33 years old and doesn’t offer much at this point.
With a projected $23.7 million in cap space among their top 51 players, the Lions can afford to make the big splash and sign DeAndre Hopkins.
1. Dallas Cowboys
Sitting 11th in projected cap space at $14.1 million, Dallas shouldn't have an issue freeing up the necessary funds to sign a star like Hopkins, either. A three-time All-Pro and five-time Pro Bowler, Hopkins is still well worth the investment. In 10 NFL seasons, he's hauled in 853 career receptions for 11,298 yards and 71 touchdowns.
The Cowboys don't really need another starting wide receiver. CeeDee Lamb shined in the WR1 role last year, hauling in 107 catches for 1,359 yards and nine touchdowns. Brandin Cooks is coming off a down year in Houston, but the former 2014 first-round pick previously had over 1,000 yards in six of his previous seven seasons.
Michael Gallup has high upside as the top deep threat atop the Cowboys' roster, but he's been limited to a combined 74 receptions for 869 yards and six scores across 23 games over the last two injury-plagued seasons.
Injuries impact every team in the league every year, and remarkably, the Cowboys don't have another wide receiver on the depth chart that caught more than three passes last season.
Adding one of the NFL's best route-runners, who still has arguably the best hands in the league, could be the Cowboys' ticket to potentially dethroning the Eagles as the best team in the division and conference.
With Cooks and Lamb splitting some slot duties, Hopkins could do a ton of damage as a reliable and dynamic outside receiver for franchise quarterback Dak Prescott. With an unproven group of tight ends led by 2022 fourth-round pick Jake Ferguson and rookie second-round pick Luke Schoonmaker, we could even see the Cowboys run a decent amount of 10 personnel, maximizing the nightmare mismatches of having Lamb, Cooks, Gallup, and Hopkins on the field together.
Moreover, everyone knows Jerry Jones loves to make flashy signings. Adding a star receiver like Hopkins would give the Cowboys an embarrassment of riches at receiver and a difference maker in a potential deep playoff run.
The financials would be the biggest obstacle, but the same can be said for the other interested teams that currently have less cap space to work with, including the Eagles, Ravens, Patriots, Giants, Browns, Bills, and Chiefs.