The NFL's new league year hasn't even officially started and the defending AFC South champion Houston Texans already look vastly different. On Monday, general manager/head coach Bill O'Brien agreed to send wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona for running back David Johnson. The Texans also get a second-round pick this year and a fourth-rounder in 2021 while sending the Cardinals their 2020 fourth-round selection, but the big takeaway is the Hopkins-Johnson swap.
To be fair, Johnson, like Hopkins, has been an All-Pro, but for the former that was back in 2016 while the latter has earned that honor each of the past three seasons. Since Johnson led the league in 2016 with 2,118 yards from scrimmage and 20 total touchdowns, he has put up 2,191 yards from scrimmage and 16 scores in the past three seasons combined.
Johnson hasn't been the same player since breaking his wrist in the season opener in 2017. Last season, he ended up losing his job to Kenyan Drake, who the Cardinals acquired from Miami in late October. Drake thrived in his new surroundings, and even though he was set to be a free agent, Arizona placed the transition tag on him, meaning they can match any other team's offer. With Johnson now in Houston, it's pretty much a guarantee that Drake will be back with the Cardinals.
Johnson will get a chance to restart his career in Houston and with Lamar Miller and Carlos Hyde set to enter free agency, there was a need at the position. But subtracting Hopkins to add Johnson seems like a hefty price to pay.
Not just one of the best at his position but one of the best players in the league period, Hopkins has averaged 105 receptions, 1,372 yards, and 10 touchdowns over the past three seasons. That production will not only have to be replaced but what impact will this move have on Deshaun Watson? Hopkins was clearly Watson's favorite and most trusted target. In 2019 alone, Hopkins was responsible for nearly 30 percent of the Texans' targets (150 of 534), receptions (104 of 355), and receiving yards (1,165 of 4,083) while accounting for seven of the 27 touchdown catches.
With Hopkins gone, Watson's top wideouts become Will Fuller and Kenny Stills, and free agent Randall Cobb, who the Texans reportedly agreed to terms with late Monday night.
In the case of Fuller and Stills, both are legitimate deep threats and came up with some big plays for the Texans last season, but neither are in Hopkins' class and Fuller has had trouble staying healthy. He has missed at least five games in each of the past three seasons due to injury. Cobb, meanwhile, was productive in his lone season in Dallas (55 rec., 828 yds., 3 TDs) after spending his first eight years in Green Bay, but he's not filling Hopkins' big shoes either.
Johnson may be able to rediscover his All-Pro form in Houston, but on paper, this trade only appears to make the Texans weaker, which then opens the door for the rest of the AFC South. Houston may have won the division but it was Tennessee that made it all the way to the AFC Championship Game and the Titans have already addressed their two biggest offseason questions by agreeing with quarterback Ryan Tannehill on a contract extension (four years, worth $118 million, $92 million guaranteed) and applying the franchise tag to running back Derrick Henry.
Indianapolis has plenty of cap space to work with and could be in the market for a quarterback (Philip Rivers? Teddy Bridgewater? Tom Brady?), but the Colts' first big move was to acquire second-team All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner from San Francisco for their first-round pick (No. 13 overall). Indianapolis also reportedly agreed to a contract extension that will pay Buckner $21 million annually, making him the second-highest-paid at his position behind Aaron Donald. But between Buckner and re-signing tackle Anthony Castonzo, the Colts have already had a productive offseason as they look to bounce back after going 7-9 in 2019.
Even the Jaguars have been busy, agreeing to trade defensive end Calais Campbell to Baltimore for a fifth-round pick this year. That move certainly doesn't make Jacksonville better but after stumbling to 6-10 last season and with a roster full of questions, no one was expecting the Jags to contend this season.
Houston, on the other hand, has been in win-now mode for several seasons, but especially after O'Brien pulled off another big trade, acquiring left tackle Laremy Tunsil from Miami prior to the start of last season. The deal also brought over Stills and a couple of draft picks (2020 fourth-rounder, 2021 sixth), but it cost the Texans two first-round picks (2020, '21), a second-rounder in 2021, as well as tackle Julie'n Davenport and defensive back Johnson Bademosi. Tunsil is set to become a free agent after the upcoming season, so this deal will likely become even more expensive for O'Brien as he really can't let Tunsil leave after paying so much in draft capital to get him.
And speaking of draft capital, what is really puzzling about this trade is the seemingly minimal return O'Brien got for Hopkins, a perennial All-Pro. Hopkins for Johnson by itself is not a fair trade, so draft picks had to be included, but the teams are basically swapping fourth-rounders (in separate years) and the Texans are getting Arizona's second-round pick (No. 40 overall). Meanwhile, Minnesota agreed to trade wide receiver Stefon Diggs to Buffalo Monday night and the Vikings got back considerably more.
Diggs is a good player, coming off of back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, but he's not on Hopkins' level. Diggs is signed for four more seasons and with $47.5 million remaining, it's not an unreasonable deal, assuming Diggs is able to stay healthy and remains productive. However, Hopkins is under contract for three more years, set to earn a total of $40 million in base salary. It just doesn't make sense for the Vikings to be able to get so much more for Diggs compared to what O'Brien got for Hopkins.
What does matter, however, is that once this trade becomes official, presumably later this week, Hopkins will no longer be a Texan. And while plenty will change between now and the start of the season, it sure seems like the defending AFC South champions have taken a gigantic step backward. You might even say, "Houston, we have a problem."