In January, Bill O’Brien officially added the title of “general manager of the Houston Texans” to his previous job as head coach. It was a consolidation of power, sort of like his mentor Bill Belichick has up in New England.
On Monday, the first day of legal tampering in the NFL free agent derby, he made his most significant, and perhaps long-term defining, deal.
And it’s a head-scratcher.
You can take a moment to read that again to make sure it’s real. It is.
Hopkins has posted three consecutive 1,100-yard plus seasons where he caught 31 touchdowns (although just seven in 2019). In the process, he has become the preferred weapon of quarterback Deshaun Watson and turned the Texans into a fearsome offensive team.
Why the Texans would trade Hopkins at all, let alone for a 28-year-old running back who is coming off a 345-yard, two-touchdown season, is … well, O’Brien better have a good answer.
He wanted the power. He got the power. He exercised the power.
If this goes as wrong as the initial reaction suggests, he may never live it down.
There is a packed draft class of potential game-breaker receivers coming next month. While the Texans now have two second-round picks, they previously dealt their 2020 and 2021 first-round picks for receiver Kenny Stills and offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil. Can he get one early in the second?
Yes, Stills is a good player, but he isn’t Hopkins.
The salary cap doesn’t seem to be a big issue. Hopkins is signed through the 2022 season, with a cap hit of $12.5 million this season and none higher than $13.9 million, per Spotrac.com. That’s a reasonable number for a player of his caliber. Even if Hopkins was angling for a new deal, what was he going to do with three full seasons remaining?
Besides, in the trade, the Texans picked up Johnson’s full salary, which is an $11.2 million cap hit next season, per Spotrac.
The Houston Chronicle’s Aaron Wilson reported Monday about “friction” between O’Brien and Hopkins. There may have been, but a good coach finds a way to work through those when a talent the size of Hopkins is involved.
The Texans are a consistent playoff team trying to make a leap past the divisional round. The way O’Brien has unloaded high draft picks, he appears to be in win-now mode. From the outside, it felt like building around Watson and Hopkins was the recipe going forward.
Did they need an aging running back who had one really good season (1,239 yards, 16 TDs) … all the way back in 2016? Johnson carried the ball just 94 times last season.
O’Brien, the coach/general manager had to have his reason, it’s just not obvious to most. Maybe an explanation is coming. And, of course, the proof is in the performances next fall.
For now, it looks like the Cardinals fleeced the Texans. Young QB Kyler Murray gets a game-breaker, the team gets an extra fourth-round pick in the swap and a decent-sized contract at one of the most replaceable positions in football is off the books.
Meanwhile, it’s fair to ask the rest of the league why they couldn’t have come with a sweeter offer to get Hopkins?
Buffalo couldn’t have done better? New England? Anyone?
The Bills, on Monday evening, shipped off four draft picks, including a first-rounder, for wide out Stefon Diggs.
O’Brien was officially named Houston’s general manager in January. He’d been the de facto GM since the team fired Brian Gaine last offseason. With more power concentrated on one man, then he gets to make the calls (or a bigger portion of the calls).
On the first big day of the offseason, he made the big deal heard around the league.
It’s just not too many people can figure out why he did it. Which means he better have outsmarted everyone here, or he may never live it down.
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