Randy Johnson was 35 when he signed a free-agent contract with the Diamondbacks. He won four consecutive Cy Young Awards and led us to our only major professional championship. He’s the best investment in Arizona sports history.
Charles Barkley was 29 when he came to the Valley, the centerpiece of a blockbuster trade that would forever change our perspective. His entertainment value was off the charts. He led the newscasts every night. He more than compensated for the title he never won, showing the Valley what it’s like to truly fall in love with a professional sports team.
DeAndre Hopkins is a little of both. He is just 28, headstrong and confident. He is in the prime of his career. No one can tell him what to do. Especially when he’s right.
Like Barkley, Hopkins was part of a lopsided trade. Like Johnson, he was essentially a free-agent acquisition, where the Cardinals had to pay upfront and through the nose to secure his services.
Let’s hope this is the beginning of an amazing relationship.
“Since the day we traded for DeAndre Hopkins, it was our goal all along to get him extended,” Cardinals general manager Steve Keim told reporters on Tuesday. “So today’s signing is extremely exciting for us.”
Hopkins’ extension took longer than anticipated. Hopefully, his limited availability in the process didn’t stall the development of the 2020 offense. I’ll take solace that nothing has ever stopped him on a football field. And because Hopkins was testing the system and its conventional boundaries.
Do you think he would’ve taken the field in Week 1 without guaranteed money?
Me neither. And you have to be a great football player with an iron-clad will to pull off what Hopkins just did, re-working his financial future while reaping another windfall with three years and $39 million left on his existing deal.
But that’s part of his charm. And here’s what matters most:
Hopkins found a franchise that agreed with his sense of self-worth, rewarding the stance that got him shipped out of Houston in the first place. He gives Kyler Murray an elite wide receiver for the next five years, equaling the amount of time Larry Fitzgerald spent with Kurt Warner. He fills a gaping need at wide receiver, atoning for Keim’s three whiffs in the 2019 NFL Draft.
And in the long view, it re-establishes Arizona a marquee NFL destination, a franchise that believes in partnering with its players, with liberating and empowering its players. It is no longer a franchise that believes in berating its players, like what occurred in the final years of Bruce Arians, when accountability was too often a one-way street.
That’s the resonant power in giving Hopkins what he wanted. It’s the sign of a progressive franchise breaking from the old-school approach and siding with a player’s happiness. It’s much different than the typical NFL playbook, which diminishes the player by squatting on the player, even the elite.
“I’ve never had more than two years with one quarterback in my eight years of playing football,” Hopkins said on Tuesday. “Being able to build a relationship with the quarterback, (the) sky is the limit of what I feel like I can do …
“Being able to be with a quarterback that I know is the future of this organization for five years and having off-seasons (ahead) and building, it’s exciting. This organization is great. The players that they have on this team, Patrick Peterson, Chandler (Jones), young guys like Isaiah (Simmons), it’s on the up-and-up. Just walking around the locker room, you can tell.”
Hopkins is proof that a star player is always happiest on payday, especially when it involves gobs of guaranteed money. But Hopkins created this path out of thin air, seeing it to fruition with no agent and only a team of personal advisors on his side. His credibility between the lines is now off the charts.
Hopkins will bring a new, hardcore energy to the Cardinals. They are a team that dumped Josh Rosen for Murray. That took a chance on an intelligent head coach who just failed in a college job at his alma mater, a head coach who is smart enough to delegate and not dictate. They paid Hopkins what he wanted when other NFL teams shuddered at the precedent.
Hopkins made a point to thank the Cardinals for “accepting the trade” and “believing in me.” That’s a powerful message for the rest of the NFL, at a time when athletes are growing bolder and louder, when smart franchises will partner up with the men who play the game.
The arrival of Hopkins is everything we’ve wanted in Arizona sports. We’ve had a loving spoonful of homegrown heroes, from Pat Tillman to Paul Goldschmidt to Larry Fitzgerald to Devin Booker. We’ve had megawatt athletes joining us on the downslide of their careers. We’ve had scrap-heap sensations inspire with their persistence, from Warner to Carson Palmer.
Now, we get a superstar in his prime. A young man going nowhere but up. A player who always exceeds the hype because he rarely meets his match on the football field.
The Cardinals just invested heavily in Hopkins. We get five years to do the same.