The DeAndre Hopkins era is over for the Arizona Cardinals, who are on the hook for quite an expensive breakup.
The Cardinals released the three-time All-Pro wide receiver in a salary cap move Friday after they failed to find a trading partner in the offseason.
Arizona made the move three seasons after acquiring Hopkins in a blockbuster trade with Houston and eventually signing him to a $54.5m contract extension through 2024. The soon-to-be 31-year-old Hopkins would have counted close to $31m against the cap this season.
His cap hit in dead money is $22.6m. The good news for the Cardinals is he’ll be off the books for 2024, when the team figures to be more competitive.
Hopkins – still one of the NFL’s elite receivers when healthy – is free to sign with any team. His 11,298 career yards receiving already rank 36th in league history.
Arizona is rebuilding under new head coach Jonathan Gannon and general manager Monti Ossenfort and keeping Hopkins’ expensive contract didn’t make much sense, particularly because franchise quarterback Kyler Murray is likely to miss part of the upcoming season while recovering from a knee injury.
The Cardinals tried for months to trade Hopkins, but his expensive contract made that difficult.
Hopkins had 221 catches for 2,696 yards and 17 touchdowns in 35 games with Arizona. His most famous catch was a last-second heave from Murray in the end zone against the Buffalo Bills in 2020 that became known as ‘Hail Murray’.
His 2020 season was his best in the desert. He caught a franchise-record 115 passes for 1,407 yards and six touchdowns.
For a few months, the Murray-Hopkins combo looked like it would grow into one of the most prolific in the NFL. The Cardinals started the 2021 season with a 10-2 record thanks to their high-powered offense, but Hopkins and Murray both battled injuries in the latter half of the year and the team faded, barely making the playoffs before getting blown out by the Rams in the wild-card round.
Hopkins never got on track in 2022, starting the year with a six-game suspension after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. The Cardinals finished with a 4-13 record, leading to the firing of coach Kliff Kingsbury. The team also parted ways with GM Steve Keim.