The Arizona Cardinals are looking towards the future, of DeAndre Hopkins -- leaving the franchise without a No. 1 wide receiver for 2023. The Cardinals acquired Hopkins to be the No. 1 wide receiver for Kyler Murray, helping the former No. 1 overall pick grow into one of the best quarterbacks in football.
Early returns were worth the investment, as Hopkins amassed 115 catches for 1,407 yards and six touchdowns in his first year in Arizona. Injuries and a six-game suspension took over the past two seasons, as Hopkins had 106 catches for 1,289 yards and 11 touchdowns in 19 games.
Hopkins is still one of the game's best receivers despite not having a 1,000-yard season since 2020, as the Cardinals were clearly a better team when he was on the field than when he was off it. Arizona was 18-17 in the 35 games Hopkins played and 17-14 when Hopkins played with Murray at quarterback. The Cardinals were 5-10 in the 15 games Hopkins didn't play.
With a new general manager (Monti Ossenfort) and new head coach (Jonathan Gannon) in the fold, the Cardinals are looking to rebuild the franchise from the errors of the previous regime. Part of the restructuring involved moving on from Hopkins and taking a dead cap hit for 2023 so they could have a fresh start for 2024.
What's this mean for Murray going forward? Not good for the quarterback who signed a $230.5 million contract last summer and is tied to Arizona for at least the next two seasons.
Who's the No. 1 wide receiver?
With the release of Hopkins, Murray lost his top target over the past three years. A.J. Green also retired, meaning Murray won't have another veteran wide receiver at his disposal.
Fortunately for the Cardinals, they still have some valuable pass-catchers for Murray. Marquise Brown will be the No. 1 wideout in 2023 while Rondale Moore will take over the No. 2 spot. Greg Dortch will get more reps, competing with Zach Pascal and 2023 third-round pick Michael Wilson for the No. 3 spot. Zach Ertz and Trey McBride are also the top two tight ends on the roster.
Arizona looked much better at wide receiver when Hopkins was on the roster. Murray will have to try to win games without his favorite target, but this group is far from the worst in the NFL. There's just a lot of unproven commodities.
Murray fighting for his job?
The Cardinals have two first-round picks in the 2024 NFL Draft -- their own and the one they acquired from the Houston Texans so that Houston could trade up to No. 3 overall and select Will Anderson Jr. Houston should be better in 2023, but is still projected to be one of the worst teams in the NFL. The Cardinals could pick up a top-five pick from the Texans if their win total doesn't significantly improve.
Arizona might just be the worst team in the league -- and primed for the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. USC's Caleb Williams is slated to enter the 2024 NFL Draft and is projected to be the best quarterback prospect since Trevor Lawrence. If the Cardinals get that No. 1 pick, Murray likely had a bad year and Arizona would look to move on by resetting the franchise and draft Williams (while getting another franchise cornerstone in the process with the Houston pick).
Arizona probably doesn't want Murray to succeed at this rate. Releasing Hopkins doesn't give Murray the pass-catchers he needs to help the franchise win games.
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The numbers with/without Hopkins
Murray was 17-14 in the 31 games Hopkins played, but his splits were significantly better when Hopkins was on the field. Here were Murray's numbers when Hopkins played (since Hopkins was traded to the Cardinals in 2020):
|Completion percentage||TD||INT||Passer rating||W/L|
Murray with Hopkins
|Murray without Hopkins||65.4%||13||4||87.4||3-7|
The Cardinals just don't win games when Hopkins isn't on the field, and Murray isn't as efficient of a quarterback throwing the football without him. Murray has just 349 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns without Hopkins on the field, averaging 6.0 yards per carry. With Hopkins, Murray has 230 carries for 1,271 yards and 17 touchdowns (5.5 yards per carry).
No Hopkins in the fold equals a less productive Murray. Not good for his prospects in 2023.