Few players who have remained unsigned as of Memorial Day in recent years match DeAndre Hopkins‘ profile, making the former All-Pro wide receiver’s eventual landing spot a frequent discussion topic during OTA season. A few teams have been connected to the 11th-year veteran since his Cardinals release.
Most closely tied to the Bills and Chiefs, with each team having engaged in trade talks with the Cardinals, Hopkins also has a clear link to the Browns. He and Deshaun Watson remain close, and the Browns quarterback said earlier this offseason he was planning to discuss how the team stood regarding Hopkins interest. Nothing transpired on the trade front, but now that the three-year Watson target is in free agency, forging a path to Cleveland would be easier.
Hopkins is open to playing with Watson again, Jeremy Fowler said during a recent ESPN appearance (h/t Brobible.com’s Dov Kleiman), labeling the Browns a dark-horse team to monitor. The Chiefs and Bills may remain the more likely Hopkins suitors, but the Browns — despite their landmark Watson extension — do carry a cap-space advantage. Buffalo and Kansas City sit 30th and 31st in cap room presently.
The Browns will soon pick up more cap space as well, having used both their post-June cut designations this offseason (John Johnson, Jadeveon Clowney). Cleveland will pick up $9.75MM from the Johnson release later this week. That stands to bump the Browns’ cap-room number past $16MM. The Watson contract obviously sits as a historically onerous part of the Browns’ payroll, but the team restructured the five-year, $230MM guaranteed deal earlier this offseason. While Watson’s cap hits reside at record-shattering numbers from 2024-26, his 2023 cap figure checks in at $19.1MM.
Cleveland has, however, made multiple moves at receiver this offseason. They acquired Elijah Moore via trade and selected Tennessee’s Cedric Tillman Jr. in Round 3. These two will join 2022 trade acquisition Amari Cooper and contract-year sidekick Donovan Peoples-Jones atop the Browns’ receiving hierarchy. A Hopkins move would presumably bump Tillman to the developmental track, and the Browns also have two other recent third-round receivers — Anthony Schwartz, David Bell — on their roster. Conversely, the Chiefs and Bills are not as deep at the wideout spots and have been linked to Hopkins for much of the offseason.
As of Monday, the Bills, at plus-200, reside as slight Hopkins favorites, per SportsBetting.ag. Although the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Mary Kay Cabot advocates for the Browns pursuing Hopkins, she views a Watson-Hopkins reunion as a long-shot proposition. Hopkins resided as Watson’s top target from 2017-19, earning first-team All-Pro recognition in each season and helping Houston to back-to-back AFC South titles in that span. The Browns loomed as a suitor for ex-Watson target Brandin Cooks last year, but Cooks soon signed a Texans extension.
Hopkins, 31 next week, did not include Watson on the list of quarterbacks he would most like to play with, and Cabot posits that omission stemmed from the wideout viewing the Browns as an unrealistic destination. Then again, those comments came when Hopkins was still tied to a $27MM-per-year Cardinals contract. The landscape may be different with Hopkins now unattached. The Ravens’ $15MM Odell Beckham Jr. guarantee may affect Hopkins’ price point, but at this point in the offseason (and coming off suspension and injury issues in Arizona), Hopkins collecting that kind of guarantee will be difficult. Like the November 2021 Beckham sweepstakes, this will not be a top-dollar free agency pursuit. Fit will play a major role for the six-time 1,000-yard pass catcher.