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Making Sense of the Senseless DeAndre Hopkins Trade

Houston swapped its All-Pro wideout for Cardinals running back David Johnson on Monday in Bill O’Brien’s latest questionable front-office move

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The Texans have traded receiver DeAndre Hopkins and a 2020 fourth-round pick to the Cardinals for running back David Johnson, a 2020 second-round pick, and a 2021 fourth-rounder, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter and the Houston Chronicle’s John McClain. It’s the type of trade that would get vetoed in fantasy football. If it sounds surprising, remember that the Texans front office is run by a full-time head coach whose no. 2 adviser is a former team chaplain with little to no scouting or coaching experience.

Hopkins is one of the best receivers in the NFL, and the first seven years of his career have been some of the best for any receiver through seven seasons in NFL history. But let’s set aside the Hopkins aspect of the deal for a moment. Trading for Johnson is a questionable decision in and of itself. He started just nine games in 2019 and carried the ball just 94 times for 345 yards (3.7 yards per carry). Worse, he was usurped by running back Kenyan Drake, whom the Cardinals traded for halfway through the year. In Johnson’s final seven games, he had just 18 carries for 47 yards. He was not listed on the injury report for much of the second half of the season, but he dealt with a back issue and an ankle injury earlier in the year. Either those injuries lasted longer than the Cardinals acknowledged, or a healthy Johnson was benched. Either one is concerning.

Now take all of those health concerns and throw in Johnson’s $13 million contract for 2020, the fourth-highest mark of any running back in football. Also consider this is the third time Houston has traded for a running back since Labor Day weekend, after dealing a third-rounder to Cleveland for Duke Johnson (who didn’t land the starting job) and guard Martinas Rankin to Kansas City for Carlos Hyde (who was likely to be cut by the Chiefs). Now the team is adding Johnson, a highly paid and steeply declining player at what is usually the cheapest skill position. Trading for Johnson goes against all wisdom accrued in the past decade of NFL transactions.

Now we factor in that to get Johnson, the Texans traded away DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins turns 28 in June and is the best pass catcher the state of Texas has had since Michael Irvin. The four-time All-Pro is the 14th-highest-paid player at his position. Even if he is seeking a new contract, which McClain implied he is, Hopkins is the type of player a team should invest in. Instead, the Texans traded him to move up two rounds in the draft, add a midround pick next year, and acquire one of the worst contracts in football. O’Brien and his no. 2, former Patriots chaplain Jack Easterby, either didn’t have the competence to call around the league and field better offers for their star receiver, or they did get one but mistook Johnson for an asset instead of a liability.

O’Brien has been screwing up trades left and right since taking over GM responsibilities in June. Trading real assets for those running backs was an awful start. Mortgaging Houston’s future by sending two first-rounders and a second-rounder to Miami for the Laremy Tunsil package was even worse, considering O’Brien mortgaged the future without getting the left tackle to agree to a contract extension. That catastrophe led to Monday’s trade, because the Texans were put in a position where they had to write Tunsil a blank check to ensure that he didn’t leave. The price, apparently, was DeAndre Hopkins. Every Texans trade is to fix a previous mistake, like cutting off your nose to spite your face but then cutting off your ear to replace your nose. Who knows what they might have to cut off next. This was the reaction from David Mulugheta, Deshaun Watson’s agent:

If Watson decides to push for a trade, mortgaging the future may come at a higher price than O’Brien anticipated.