And we’re digging out now…
• Over the first eight years of his NFL career, seven in Houston and one in Arizona, DeAndre Hopkins started 126 of 128 games — missing one game in 2017 and another in ’19. Last season, however, he missed seven regular season contests and the Cardinals’ playoff game due to hamstring and knee injuries, and thanks to a six-game PED suspension, he’ll continue to be on the sideline quite often for Arizona.
When Hopkins returns from his suspension, he’ll have been out for 14 of the Cardinals’ previous 16 games. He turns 30 in June. His contract spikes in 2023 — he’s owed a non-guaranteed $ 19.45 million salary that year, his age-31 season, and is slated to carry a cap number of $ 27.2 million. And after that, presumably, Kyler Murray will be off his rookie contract.
It doesn’t take a direct line to GM Steve Keim to see where this might be headed.
And if there’s one thing to take away going forward on Hopkins’s suspension, it really does relate to all that. When he returns, Hopkins will be heading into a critical 11-game stretch. How the back end of 2022 goes for him could go a long way to determining where his career goes thereafter.
• I’m told that Hopkins’s looming absence was, indeed, a factor in the Cardinals’ pursuit of, and eventual trade for, Ravens burner Hollywood Brown. Obviously, they’ve known for a while that Hopkins was facing the suspension. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they wouldn’t have done the Brown trade anyway.
Every team that had Hopkins knows it’s imperative that you’re fast around him, because he’s not running away from anyone. That’s why the Texans drafted Will Fuller in the first round in 2016 and acquired Kenny Stills in 2019. And I believe it’s a reason why Christian Kirk was important to Arizona, and why the team kept the light on for former second-rounder Andy Isabella.
So in addition to Brown’s relationship with Murray from Oklahoma, and the fact that his presence should help mitigate the hole Hopkins’s absence will leave in September and October, there’s also a reason related to Hopkins’s presence for the Cardinals to have dealt for him.
• The New York teams were playing an interesting chess game, carrying multiple picks in the top 10. This morning, we outlined how Jets GM Joe Douglas played his hand — with Sauce Gardner being the pick all along at No. 4, and Garrett Wilson hanging out there as the top option at receiver for the team. Now, we’ll tell you how things at No. 5 and No. 7 came together for Giants GM Joe Schoen.
For the Giants, this was really about seeing the two picks in tandem, and less about how one player might be rated against the next. So with a desire to land Oregon pass rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux and a top tackle, the Giants weighed their options, and concern that someone would trade with Carolina into the sixth pick for Thibodeaux won out.
Rumors held before the draft that Philly was plotting a move up the board for a corner or pass rusher, and Carolina made no secret that it was open to moving the pick, and that was enough — especially since the Giants got on the clock at 5, every tackle was still available, meaning they knew they’d, at worst, get the No. 2 lineman on their board.
So Thibodeaux’s a Giant, and so is Evan Neal, and a lot of mock drafts that had New York taking a tackle at 5 (mine included) had it (slightly) wrong.
• The fifth-year option deadline has come and gone, and the final tally for 2019 first-rounders is in — 19 of the 32 had their options picked up. That’s a pretty normal number, too, looking at the totals (putting together guys with options picked up, and guys signed to extension before the deadline) since the rookie salary scale went in 11 years ago.
Class of 2019: 19
Class of 2018: 22
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Class of 2017: 18
Class of 2016: 17
Class of 2015: 20
Class of 2014: 23
Class of 2013: 18
Class of 2012: 20
Class of 2011: 21
It’s also interesting that the number hasn’t fluctuated much over the last two offseasons, with the fifth-year options now fully guaranteed on the date they’re exercised. Next year, for what it’s worth, will bring two easy calls at quarterback (Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert), and one interesting one (Tua Tagovailoa).
• An interesting nugget, maybe only to me — Patriots coach Bill Belichick and Panthers coach Matt Rhule directly negotiated the trade that brought Matt Corral to Carolina. If you want to keep score down the line, the Panthers acquired the 94th pick, which they used on Corral, for the 137th pick, which brought Western Kentucky QB Bailey Zappe, and a 2023 third-rounder.
And if you want to see that as teams do, Carolina basically forked up a future third-rounder to move up 33 spots.
• Tough seeing the weekend’s outcome for former Clemson star Justyn Ross, who starred as a freshman and was one of the heroes of the Tigers’ CFP title game win over Alabama in January of 2019. At that point, Ross seemed destined to become the program’s next highly drafted receiver. Since, he has undergone a cervical spine fusion and a lower back fusion, and as a result, most teams have given him a failing medical grade.
The concern for team doctors is that the wrong kind of hit could be catastrophic.
The Chiefs signed him Monday as an undrafted free agent. Here’s hoping the best for him as he tries to carve out a spot in the NFL, something that seemed certain three years ago, and above all else good health going forward.
• While we’re there, LSU’s Damone Clark was another player whose stock plummeted over the last few months for medical reasons. Doctors at the combine caught a back issue when he told them of the problems he’d had with stingers, and it was determined that he should get disc fusion surgery. At that point, Clark was expected to be drafted on Friday night, somewhere in the second or third round.
But the back surgery may knock him out for his entire rookie season, and that was enough to knock him all the way down to the fifth round, where Dallas scooped him up.
• The retirement of Malcolm Jenkins opened a readymade job for Tyrann Mathieu in New Orleans. He’ll be able to play the cover safety role, in which he can play high or low, and at the slot corner — which is basically what he’s done for a good part of his career.
Also, it’s cool to see him get the shot to go home for his 10th year as a pro. And indicative, too, of how much he’s grown since he was at LSU. Back in 2013, when he was coming out, some teams that were within driving distance of New Orleans took him off the board simply because they didn’t think he could handle being so close to the trouble he’d gotten in as a collegian.
Suffice it to say, that sort of thing is not even a thought for the Saints now.
• Today’s also a big day for free agents like Mathieu because it’s the marker at which their signings will no longer count against teams signing them in the comp-pick formula. For those like the Ravens, Rams and Patriots — that put a lot of work into gaming the formula to acquire extra draft capital — getting past this checkpoint is meaningful, and it certainly wasn’t a mistake that happened to be when the Mathieu deal got pushed over the goal line.
Among those still on the market: Jadeveon Clowney, Odell Beckham Jr., Trey Flowers, Julio Jones and Melvin Ingram.
• And we’ll wrap with one final note on outgoing Steelers GM Kevin Colbert. As I was calling around for the collection of well-wishes from Colbert’s peers we had in this morning’s column, Jets GM Joe Douglas told me this story about being at Florida State as a young scout, and going out for barbecue after work with the Pittsburgh boss — and how Colbert was constantly doing that for guys coming up, taking them out and giving them advice.
So I recounted that for Bills GM Brandon Beane, and Beane had a story of his own. I’ll let Beane take it from here.
“It’s funny you say Florida State, because this year, Labor Day weekend, and Kevin and I had seen each other at a couple of other games that weekend — Friday night was Virginia Tech / Carolina, I saw him Saturday night at Clemson / Georgia, and Sunday night was Florida State / Notre Dame, ”he said. “So we both land in the afternoon, the game’s at night. We land 2, 3 o’clock, both of us, and what you do, you go check into the hotel and get ready for the game, drive over, I’ll see you at the game in a little while.
“He was getting a car rental at the company just next to mine, and he heard, while he was waiting, the guy tell me, We’re low on car rentals, you’re gonna have to wait an hour or so. Kevin was like, Brandon, you want me to just take you? Well, we were staying at different hotels, I’m like, Kevin, I got time, I’ll be fine. He says, You sure? And he’s like, If you don’t get that car in time, call me and I’ll come back and pick you up, and take you to the game. I said, Yeah, I appreciate that, Kevin.
“Well, about 45 minutes later, he calls me—Are you good? Most people would’ve rode off, like, that’s his problem. Kevin wanted to make sure I had a ride and I was covered.
“It means a lot, and he was always doing it. One of our pro scouts told me a story, when he was doing some college stuff. And I can’t remember the school, I think he was at a pro day or something. This would’ve been a few years ago, and Kevin and him were just talking and Kevin said, Where are you going to next? And he told him, and Kevin started asking him, Do you know the best way to get there? He said, not really. And Kevin was like, Mapquest or whatever is gonna send you this way — don’t go that way. He told him how to get there, and it was at night, so he said, It’s kind of windy, be careful.
“Well, he said Kevin called him or texted him that evening to make sure he made it safely. He’d just met him. He’d literally just met the guy. That’s who Kevin is. ”
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