As if the times weren’t already confusing enough, Houston Football Emperor Bill O’Brien added another layer of bewilderment.
The Houston Texans sent All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and a fourth-round pick to the Arizona Cardinals for running back David Johnson and a second-round pick in 2020 and a fourth-round pick in 2021.
Let’s get this out of the way: This is the worst trade I have ever seen in my entire life.
Just how bad is the DeAndre Hopkins trade?
You can offer up many other hideous deals that looked awful at the moment, in hindsight, or both. But at least those deals, like the Saints selling the farm for Ricky Williams or the Vikings move for Herschel Walker, featured assets that were extremely valuable at the time of the deal.
David Johnson hasn’t displayed that kind of transformative value since his 2016 campaign. Three seasons have come and gone when Johnson struggled with injuries and looked ordinary in the moments he did make his way to the gridiron.
Even worse, the Texans sacrificed one of the three best wide receivers in the NFL — in the prime of his career — to acquire the fading Johnson. DeAndre Hopkins has piled up 315 catches, 4,115 yards and scored 31 touchdowns in the last three regular seasons. He ranks second, third, and first in the NFL in those categories. Hopkins won’t turn 28 until June. Shipping off a proven asset playing at the height of his powers is far worse than a haul of draft picks.
One last dagger: The Cardinals get Hopkins with three more years left on his current deal, at an average cap hit of $13.3 million. Meanwhile, the Texans will take on all the money in David Johnson’s current contract. In 2020 alone he’s due $10.2 million in base salary in 2020 with a cap hit of $14.2 million (per Over The Cap). If he makes it to 2021, the cap charge goes down to $12 million.
The trade doesn’t become any rosier the more you flesh it out; it only gets harder to believe it happened the more digital ink you spill thinking about it.
Hopkins now heads to an Arizona offense that, despite a still-poor record, enjoyed a truly successful first season of Kliff Kingsbury’s offense. The rushing offense was the second-best ranked in the league by Football Outsiders’ DVOA and Kyler Murray displayed enviable arm talent in glimpses. Now, this unit that wants to spread the field with wide receivers just added one of the best in the game.
Murray was the QB7 in fantasy football and Offensive Rookie of the Year last season without Hopkins. Expect his hype train to roar with fury all offseason.
Down in Houston, it’s hard to put lipstick on this pig. The Texans were one of the few desirable landing spots for available running backs. So, in theory, Johnson has an excellent chance to revive his career. And make no mistake, it is of great help for a running back to play alongside one of the best quarterbacks in the league, a category we can safely file Deshaun Watson in.
Oftentimes, when losing an elite talent like Hopkins, while it can create a bigger slice of the for other players in the offense they leave behind, a problem is created.
The entire size of the pie gets smaller or, at least, far less appetizing.
Essentially, your one large slice of pepperoni, meatball and fresh basil pizza from a local eatery just became three small slices of a frozen pie you plucked from the back shelf of the grocery store.
This just happened to the Steelers last season. In January, JuJu Smith-Schuster told me that in addition to not having their future Hall of Fame quarterback in 2019, the biggest problem the scoring unit faced was, “Not having Antonio Brown, so obviously that changed a lot with coverage-wise, playing against the number one corner, going against the double teams and all that. That was a little bit of big difference that [not everyone] everyone sees.”
Remember those words when you consider giving anyone in Houston a sizable bump just because of the volume vacated by Hopkins’ departure. For everyone left behind, it’s a vomit-inducing downgrade.
More than the available volume he leaves behind, Hopkins’ exit brings more scrutiny for Emperor O’Brien. Players around the league — even those within his own locker room — expressed somewhere from shock to disgust on social media. It looks like this was a trade purely of O’Brien’s design, as well-established Texans beat writer Aaron Wilson reported this divorce was foretold by multiple sources over the last year due to friction between the All-Pro wideout and his coach.
It’s not the first player O’Brien has developed a bad relationship with and that’s not even touching on the multiple front office members he’s successfully weeded out in his search for power in the building.
However, this is by far the most valuable asset he’s cost them. March 2020 marks an inflection point in the Texans franchise and it’s worth wondering how much longer this situation remains tenable.