Part of the human condition is not appreciating what we have. The Texans may not have a Super Bowl in their less than 20 years of existence, but they have Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins, perhaps the most exciting quarterback-receiver combination in the modern NFL. That duo might not stay together for much longer. Peter King of NBC Sports wrote that the franchise could be open to trading Hopkins.
“It might be just pre-draft chatter, but two teams over the weekend told me to watch Houston and DeAndre Hopkins,” King wrote on Monday. “[Hopkins] has three years and a reasonable $40 million left on his contract, and [he’d] cause only a $3 million cap hit to the Texans if they traded him. Houston is currently in draft hell, without a top-50 pick in 2020 and 2021, and coach Bill O’Brien has huge needs to fill on his offensive line, in the secondary and overall youth on the front seven; J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus will play this year at [ages] 31 and 30.”
To be clear, this is a rumor, not a report. But King’s suggestion that a Hopkins trade is even possible indicates that there is some credence to the idea. That may seem unthinkable considering that Hopkins has combined for more than 4,000 receiving yards with 31 touchdowns over the past three seasons. But many said the same thing about another superstar receiver who was recently traded.
In March 2018, ESPN’s Adam Schefter discussed the possibility of the Giants trading Odell Beckham Jr. on the Golic & Wingo radio show. The Giants denied the rumor, signed Beckham to what at the time was the largest contract extension ever for a receiver, and said they did not sign him to trade him. Then, in March 2019, they traded him to the Browns. Hopkins hasn’t been involved in as many controversies as Beckham has, but OBJ’s story shows that no receiver is untradable.
So let’s assess for a moment whether the Texans are truly, actually considering trading Hopkins. That assessment starts and ends with one person: Bill O’Brien. O’Brien is both Houston’s head coach and general manager. He assumed personnel decision-making duties after the Texans fired former GM Brian Gaine in June 2019. In January 2020, team owner Cal McNair formally gave O’Brien the title that he already had unofficially. “This is the way we’ve been operating for the last eight months,” McNair told reporters in January. “[O’Brien and his staff] led us to a 10-win season, another division title and into the divisional round. Our goal is to win championships.”
Yet there is mounting evidence that O’Brien is not capable of doing two full-time jobs. For one, he’s been consistently fleeced in trades. In August, the Texans traded a third-round pick to acquire running back Duke Johnson, the highest draft pick that any team has traded for a running back in years. A few weeks later, Houston sent a serviceable guard to Kansas City for running back Carlos Hyde, whom the Chiefs were probably going to release. On the eve of the 2019 season, the Texans traded two first-round picks (in 2020 and 2021) and a 2021 second-rounder to the Dolphins for a package headlined by left tackle Laremy Tunsil. Not only was this an overpay, but it also mortgaged the franchise’s future without any guarantee that Tunsil would sign a contract extension. When the Bears orchestrated a similar trade for pass rusher Khalil Mack in 2018, they worked out an extension with Mack beforehand so there would be no holdout headaches in the future. O’Brien did not do the same, and now Tunsil is hiring new agents for his coming contract extension, which will be massive. Tunsil is set to become a free agent at the end of the year. If he leaves, Houston’s trade to acquire him will look like malpractice.
As if that wasn’t evidence enough that O’Brien shouldn’t serve as both GM and head coach, take his trade-deadline performances, which have been positively hilarious. For two years in a row, the Texans have traded for a player on the team they were facing the week of the deadline. That could be a coincidence. It could also be an indication that O’Brien the general manager doesn’t have time to scout other teams for trade targets, so he watches tape of the next team the Texans will play and trades for one of its guys.
Individually, none of these moves are damning. Collectively, they suggest that O’Brien has far too much responsibility. And O’Brien barely has anyone to whom he can delegate work. His top trusted adviser in the front office is Jack Easterby, who came from the Patriots as a leadership and culture expert as the team chaplain. But Easterby does not have much in the way of football experience.
This is the front office that may be thinking of trading Hopkins, who is perhaps the best receiver in football and who’s enjoying one of the best starts to his career of any receiver in league history. Of all NFL receivers through their first seven seasons, Hopkins ranks second in catches (632) behind only Marvin Harrison and sixth in receiving yards (8,602) behind Torry Holt, Calvin Johnson, Randy Moss, Julio Jones, and Harrison. Numbers aside, Hopkins has been a highlight machine who consistently contorts his body to come down with spectacular catches. He’s relatively cheap, too: His $14 million cap hit ranks 15th among receivers in 2020, just ahead of the Vikings’ Adam Thielen.
Hopkins will turn 28 in June, is under contract for three more seasons, and has missed two games in seven years. His backstory is nothing short of remarkable. From what we know, he is everything a franchise could want in a star player, and he’s doing it all at a team-friendly price. If the Texans really are considering trading him, perhaps the people who need to go are the ones who don’t appreciate what they have.