DAN BICKLEY

DeAndre Hopkins’ release ends WR’s selfish legacy with Cardinals

May 30, 2023, 4:16 PM

DeAndre Hopkins speaks after a game...

Arizona Cardinals WR DeAndre Hopkins. (Arizona Sports Photo/Jeremy Schnell)

(Arizona Sports Photo/Jeremy Schnell)

DeAndre Hopkins was once considered the steal of the century in Arizona. Football people couldn’t believe how little the Houston Texans required for their star wide receiver or how easily they were fleeced at the bargaining table.

Or maybe they couldn’t wait to get rid of him, a feeling the Cardinals would better understand just a few years later.

For the second time in three years, Hopkins is moving on to another team and bringing little or nothing of value in return. The Cardinals folded their hand and released him on Friday, deciding that trade compensation wasn’t worth the distractions and the drama.

It’s a sorry end to a selfish legacy in Arizona.

There are Cardinals fans who wish him well. There are NFL players who love Hopkins for his transcendent skills and his ruthless brand of mercenary football. He is a generational talent who plays by his own rules and excels at manifest destiny, snatching whatever he wants out of thin air. He extracted $54.5 million of new money from the Cardinals without hiring an agent. And in the end, he slipped loose from a rebuilding effort because the Cardinals couldn’t trade the contract he negotiated; and because Hopkins showed no shame in continually dropping the names of his favorite NFL quarterbacks, none of whom play for the Cardinals.

Hopkins also publicly cited three things he was looking for in his next organization, citing stability at the top; a strong defense; and a quarterback who pulls everyone together. The Cardinals are lacking in all three categories, and Hopkins knew it.

But why say it when you’ve been on the open market for months with no takers? Other than to expedite your release?

In yet another case of manifest destiny, Hopkins spent most of the offseason acting like the free agent he was about to become. And in the end, general manager Monti Ossenfort learned the hard way:

You cannot grow a culture around Hopkins and his business decisions.

It’s not that Hopkins was a bust in Arizona. He was terrific in his first season. Like Chris Paul, he seemed even greater than advertised. In Year 2, he co-authored the improbable Hail Murray play to beat the Bills, along with a 10-2 start that grabbed the NFL by the throat a year later.

Once, the team raved about his star power and swagger. You could feel the energy change the moment Hopkins stepped on a football field. Then he tore his MCL. Then came the PED suspension and the knee that “flared up,” prompting Hopkins to quit on his teammates and miss the final two games of the Kliff Kingsbury debacle.

It’s also understandable that Hopkins wants out. During the team’s appearance on “Hard Knocks in Season,” Hopkins revealed anxiety over his Hall of Fame credentials, especially after a six-game suspension. He needs a closing statement and a final act, the kind of stage he wouldn’t be getting in Arizona, a franchise in the midst of dramatic overhaul.

But the biggest issue was the sense of entitlement. Hopkins believed his game day reliability validated his decision to practice lightly during the week. To compete on his terms.

Maybe that works for the individual. But it does not work for the team. And it can have terrible consequences for a young head coach looking to create a fierce sense of shared commitment.

You can’t implore players to win every day and battle for every blade of grass if you are a screaming hypocrite or not the one making the rules. Then you’re just another fraud with a whistle.

The Cardinals can’t afford that. Not now. Not ever again.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta mornings from 6–10 a.m. on Arizona Sports 98.7.

Dan Bickley

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DeAndre Hopkins’ release ends WR’s selfish legacy with Cardinals