Browns in Hunt for $55 Million All-Pro Pass Catcher

Deshaun Watson

Getty Images Deshaun Watson of the Cleveland Browns.

The Cleveland Browns are playing for right now as much, or more, than any team in the NFL, which means no move is off the table.

That includes making a run at wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who became a free agent on Friday, May 26, after the Arizona Cardinals released him for their roster. According to DraftKings, the Browns’ opening odds to land Hopkins aren’t off the charts, but they’re good enough to be worth mentioning.

Cleveland is +3000 to reunite Hopkins with quarterback Deshaun Watson, his former teammate with the Houston Texans for three seasons between 2017-19. Those odds tie the Browns with several other franchises, including the AFC North Division rival Cincinnati Bengals, as potential landing spots for the five-time All-Pro wide receiver.

DeAndre Hopkins Had Best Seasons of Career With Browns QB DeShaun Watson

GettyThe Arizona Cardinals released wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins in late May 2023, making him a free agent.

Three of those All-Pro selections, all of which saw Hopkins earn a spot on the first-team, came while he was a member of the Texans. Hopkins appeared in 46 of 48 regular season games over that span, while Watson played quarterback in 38 of 48 contests during that time.

The Watson connection and the Browns’ intent to contend for the next four seasons — what will essentially be most of what remains of Hopkins’ NFL career, if not all of it — figures to put Cleveland in a decent position to land the wideout.

Watson was not named on Hopkins’ list of the top five quarterbacks with whom he’d like to play, per the May 23 edition of the I AM ATHLETE podcast. The list did include Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills and Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs, the two teams with the best odds to land Hopkins, per DraftKings.

However, what the decision may come down to is which team is willing to pay Hopkins closest to his value, or at least what he perceives his value to be. Hopkins signed a two-year extension with the Cardinals worth $54.5 million in total back in 202o. He will play next season at the age of 31, hasn’t played in more than 10 games in either of the previous two years and hasn’t been a Pro Bowler since 2020.

The Chiefs moved on from Tyreek Hill last offseason because he wanted an extension in the range of Hopkins’ most recent deal, so it doesn’t figure they’d be willing to pay an older player with a lesser track record over the past few campaigns more money than Hill desired. The Bills could make sense, having knocked on the door of the Super Bowl the last couple years. But getting over the hump may not be worth a two- or three-year commitment to an aging pass-catcher if there are any other suitable options available.

It is for these reasons that the Browns must be considered firmly in the hunt for Hopkins, despite what the initial projections indicate. Cleveland broke the bank to lure Watson to town ahead of other cities and playing scenarios he found more desirable. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Browns might make a similar play for Hopkins if they believe he puts them over the top.

Additions of Elijah Moore, Marquise Goodwin Roadblocks to Browns Signing DeAndre Hopkins

Elijah Moore

GettyThe Cleveland Browns traded for former New York Jets wide receiver Elijah Moore during the 2023 offseason.

Cleveland currently has just $7 million in 2023 salary cap space, meaning the team would need to undertake some significant financial maneuvering to clear anything close to enough cash to entice Hopkins. But that isn’t the biggest obstacle to a stint for the receiver in Cleveland.

Instead, it’s the fact that the Browns added both Elijah Moore and Marquise Goodwin to the roster this offseason to round out a position group headed by Amari Cooper. The team also drafted rookie Cedric Tillman out Tennessee last month.

That said, an embarrassment of riches has never actually embarrassed anyone, and the more weapons Cleveland has, the better chance there is of winning the AFC North and making a deep postseason run. The Browns are not unfamiliar trading for their top players, something that was done to acquire Watson, Cooper and Moore, as well as several others.

The initial odds that Cleveland ends up with Hopkins aren’t overwhelming, but developments over the next several days could afford the Browns a legitimate chance to add one of the best playmakers still on the market in 2023.

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