When news broke that DeAndre Hopkins had been released by the Arizona Cardinals with a post-June 1st designation during the final full week in May, it left more than a few fans of the San Francisco 49ers wondering if John Lynch could keep the former All-Pro in the NFC West.
One expert who firmly didn’t fall into that camp was Matt Maiocco, the long-time 49ers writer for NBC Bay Area who has been covering the team for two decades. Discussing his feelings on bringing Hopkins into the fold for his 11th professional season, Maiocco noted that between the team’s roster and cap situation both short and long-term, Hopkins would be a luxury the 49ers probably can’t afford.
“It remains to be seen where Hopkins ends up playing this season, but the 49ers do not appear to be among his potential landing spots,” Maiocco wrote.
“The 49ers already have top-flight wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, so there’s no reason for either side to move toward San Francisco landing Hopkins.”
On paper, any team would be improved by signing Hopkins in 2023, as there isn’t a single NFL roster where he wouldn’t be one of the top three wide receiving options. Still, the idea of committing to Hopkins on a big-money, long-term deal, which Maiocco inferred may be necessary to get a deal done, is likely a non-starter.
“Going out and adding another high-priced veteran receiver — especially one who is on the wrong side of 30 and coming off injuries — is a non-starter,” Maiocco concluded.
Some Experts Believe DeAndre Hopkins is Still a WR1
While Maiocco may not view Hopkins as an improvement over Samuel or Aiyuk, others, like Greg Rosenthal of NFL.com believe Hopkins would have been the number one wide receiver on the open market had he been released in March and is still very much a premium player in the NFL.
“If Hopkins was released back in March, he would have been the top wide receiver available,” Rosenthal wrote. “It’s a premium and scarce position, so he’s still worth plenty even if Nuk now fits better as a supercharged second option down the field rather than viewing him as a top-five receiver in the league.”
Retroactively dubbed the third-best free agent in the 2023 class on Rosenthal’s list, it’s clear there will be a market for Hopkins now that he’s eligible to sign anywhere without impacting the compensatory pick formula. Where he ends up, however, remains to be seen.
The San Francisco 49ers’ Wide Receivers Room is Deep
While the 49ers could sign Hopkins to a contract if his agent and Lynch can agree on a number that fits under the salary cap – San Francisco currently has $10.7 million in available funds, according to Over The Cap – the team may ultimately pass on fielding an offer because of the strength of their depth chart.
Returning all five wide receivers who made the opening day roster in 2022, Samuel, Aiyuk, Jauan Jennings, Danny Grey, and Ray-Ray McCloud, plus 2022 seventh-round pick Ronnie Bell, who has reportedly been impressive in rookie minicamp and OTAs so far, the 49ers may have trouble keeping all six of their “top” players heading into the trim-down to 53, depending on how the rest of training camp shakes out.
Adding a player like Hopkins, though very talented, could cost a player like Jennings, Grey, or even Bell a spot on the initial roster and could ultimately result in another team claiming them off of waivers, signing them to their practice squad, or agreeing to a free agent contract that removes them from the 49ers’ talent pool moving forward.