Former Cardinals RB Shares Stresses of Being Traded for DeAndre Hopkins

Getty Houston Texans RB David Johnson is chased by New England Patriots DB Kyle Dugger on October 10 in Houston, Texas.

It will be interesting to see how Arizona Cardinals fans greet David Johnson in his return to the desert.

After all, he’s one of the reasons DeAndre Hopkins now wears a Cardinals uniform.

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Johnson and Hopkins are forever linked by the still-baffling trade in March 2020 that sent an underperforming running back with a huge contract to the Houston Texans in exchange for one of the best receivers in the game. Houston also got a second-round pick (and the teams swapped fourth-round picks) in the trade.

Reaction to the deal has been rekindled on social media as the Cardinals prepare to host the Texans on Sunday, October 24, in the first meeting between the teams since the trade.

Former Texans head coach and general manager Bill O’Brien was fired about seven months after making the trade, which The Athletic’s Aaron Reiss notes was a pivotal moment for both franchises:

When the 1-5 Texans travel to Arizona this weekend to play the 6-0 Cardinals, the game will reinforce how the trade sent the teams in opposite directions. Hopkins and former Texans great J.J. Watt have helped make the Cardinals an ascending Super Bowl contender, while Johnson is one of many acquisitions by the O’Brien-led regime that hasn’t panned out on the Texans’ journey to the bottom of the standings.

Johnson also has had a hard time moving past the deal and the pressure that came with being traded for Hopkins, according to Reiss.

“I was in such a fishbowl,” Johnson told The Athletic. “Everything I did was going to be magnified because of the trade. Honestly, I felt like if I was traded for anyone else, it wouldn’t be as bad. I think just the magnitude of the trade is what made it so stressful.”

And while Hopkins thrived in his first season in Arizona, catching 115 passes for 1,407 yards and six touchdowns on his way to his fifth Pro Bowl, Johnson had an up-and-down season with the Texans: 147 carries for 691 yards (4.7 per carry), 33 catches for 314 yards, and eight total TDs. He also missed four games with a concussion.

Johnson ultimately sought help from a mental conditioning coach who specializes in helping athletes, Reiss reported.

“I felt like I was constantly having a lot of adversity thrown at me,” Johnson told The Athletic. “I was just getting real frustrated, really mad. The biggest thing for me is I was bringing it home to my wife and kids, being stressed and carrying it over from the game or the facility to my wife. I felt like they didn’t deserve that.”

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The Rise & Fall of David Johnson

Johnson said he’s been looking forward to his return to State Farm Stadium to play against the team that drafted him in 2015.

“This has been one of the games I’ve circled on my calendar,” he told Aaron Wilson, who covers the Texans for SportsTalk 790 AM in Houston. “It will be a different feeling being on the opposite side of the field, in the opposite locker room, wearing a different jersey.”

Five years ago, Johnson was about a quarter of the way into a Pro Bowl season with the Cardinals. The former third-round draft pick from Northern Iowa was an offensive threat as both a runner and receiver, finishing the 2016 season with an NFL-high and franchise-record 2,118 yards from scrimmage (1,239 rushing and 879 receiving) and scoring 20 touchdowns.

Despite getting injured in the first game of the 2017 season, Johnson was given a three-year, $39 million contract extension in September 2018. That season, the first and only year with Steve Wilks as head coach, Johnson gained 1,386 total yards from scrimmage (940 rushing, 446 receiving) and scored 10 TDs.

Johnson’s statistical decline continued in 2019 under coach Kliff Kingsbury. He started and got the bulk of the carries in the first six games, averaging 49.7 rushing yards on 12.7 carries and 52.5 receiving yards on five catches per game before injuring his ankle in Week 7.

Johnson saw action in just five of the Cardinals’ final nine games, averaging 9 rushing yards on 3.4 carries and 9.2 receiving yards on 1.2 catches per game during that stretch.

As he prepares to face his former team, Johnson is coming off one of his worst games with the Texans. He had two carries for just 7 yards, along with a 14-yard catch, but he also lost a fumble and missed a block that led to a sack in the Texans’ 31-3 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

Johnson’s latest performance had fans on social media calling for the running back to be cut.

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