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A Complete And Total Failure: An Analysis Of The DeAndre Hopkins Trade

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A deep dive into the Texans’ decision to trade DeAndre Hopkins for David Johnson and a second round pick.

Houston Texans v Tennessee TItans Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

On Monday morning, the noxious news slowly wafted across the online death marches of timelines and newsfeeds. The Texans were interested in trading for David Johnson. Peter King reported that DeAndre Hopkins could be available in a trade. The Texans traded for David Johnson. The Texans were trading DEANDRE HOPKINS for David Johnson and a second round pick (#40) in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Unbelievable.

After years of slowly wriggling and putting blame on others, running an inefficient offense, failing to push Houston past any point it has been before, wasting Deshaun Watson’s rookie contract, and running the team in a quick and furious manner lacking any plan whatsoever, Bill O’Brien has completed his masterpiece. DEANDRE HOPKINS for David Johnson and a second round pick (#40).

From a pure football standpoint, it’s an impossible task to wrap your warped gray mash around the idea trading Hopkins. Hopkins has been a Pro Bowl caliber wide receiver since his sophomore season, named to four Pro Bowls, and selected to three All-Pro teams in each of the last three seasons. Hopkins has been the only constant source of efficient offensive production for the Texans over the last seven years. He has done everything from catch slop heaved to him from awful quarterbacks to carry crappy passing offenses, to dominating sidelines, to collecting first downs in a ball control offense. Hopkins has missed exactly one game despite playing with ten quarterbacks. He has 632 catches, 8,602 yards, and 54 touchdowns.

In King’s initial report about the availability of Nuk in trade, it was leaked to him that Hopkins is less ‘explosive’ entering his age 28 season. This is a blatant lie. Hopkins wasn’t any less ‘explosive’ last season. Last season’s drop-off was because of the Texans’ offense. Hopkins went from a sideline sorcerer to a lesser version of Michael Thomas because of the offensive design. Hopkins saw his DVOA drop from 22.6% (10th) to 6.3% (31st) and his DYAR drop from 455 (2nd) to 225 (16th). The reason is simple. His yards before catch dropped from 10.3 to 7.5. The Texans’ offense never hit its true heights because it was designed around keeping the defense off the field, not scoring the most points possible.

Hopkins saw 11 more targets to the short middle section of the field. Compared to last season, Hopkins caught 7 more first downs and averaged 2.2 less yards on these attempts. It was about moving the chains. His efficiency dropped because 27.3% of his targets were to the short middle section of the field.

Hopkins was great at achieving this goal because he’s an incredible receiver and a future Hall of Famer. It did limit his value, though. The intermediate and deep receptions were less abundant last season. The deep passing attempts were usually delivered from max protection, deep crossing, Yankee combinations that forced the deep middle defender to make a decision. The one-on-one sideline tosses against isolated cornerbacks were missing from this offense last year. They were only utilized when Bill O’Brien’s offense was flailing and suffocating.

Houston broke Hopkins open as a sideline threat only in emergency situations. Like when they were down 10-3 to Indianapolis on Thursday Night Football, or when they needed a big play in their Wild Card Round comeback against Buffalo.

Hopkins isn’t on the decline. Trading him doesn’t make the Texans better. The offense is worse without him. This is an offense that will be counted upon to win games even more next season, since their only addition to their 26th ranked pass defense by DVOA is safety Eric Murray.

Sometimes great players are traded because of reasons outside of the game being played. Reported friction between Hopkins and O’Brien became reality once Michael Irvin’s gossip detonated the dam and unleashed a flood of baby mamas, Aaron Hernandez comparisons, and guaranteed contract desires. The flooding continued as former Texans receivers rowed onto the cyber battlefield. This trade looks like less like a football decision and more like a personal (not personnel) decision.

The trade doesn’t make sense from a salary cap standpoint either. Hopkins had zero guaranteed money left on his contract. Houston was paying a yearly salary that amounts to $12.5 million in 2020, $13.5 million in 2021, and $13.95 million in 2022. Hopkins didn’t have the leverage to warrant a restructure of his contract three years away from free agency. The reports claiming Hopkins wanted a new contract came sputtering out right after Irvin graced televisions. Real convenient timing.

If there is truth to these reports, that Hopkins would have sat out this summer, Houston would have been better off negotiating with him. Teams don’t fail because they pay their star players. Hopkins having a cap hit increase from $12.5 to $15 million in a league with an infinitely rising salary cap doesn’t destroy a team. Teams fail because they don’t draft well and overpay for average players in free agency. Not because they pay someone of Hopkins’ talent and caliber.

By trading for David Johnson, the Texans found scant salary cap relief for this season. Johnson is due $11.156 million in 2020, and Houston will be paying all of that. It’s a difference of a little more than a million dollars between Johnson and what Hopkins is due in 2020. The savings will arrive in 2021 when Houston releases Johnson and Hopkins is due $13.5 million, which is still a completely reasonable number and a future bargain that also comes when J.J. Watt’s $15.5 million cap hit is off the books.

If O’Brien and Hopkins’ relationship was hostile and impossible to salvage, if Hopkins somehow managed to sit out without any leverage whatsoever to force an extension Houston couldn’t afford, if the Texans had no other option and were actually forced to trade Hopkins...they should have at least acquired a collection of picks and players that matched DeAndre Hopkins’ actual value.

David Johnson and a second round pick wasn’t enough. Houston received less than other teams did when they traded their blue chip players. Laremy Tunsil was traded for two first round picks and a second round pick—yes, other things were involved, too. Frank Clark was traded for a first, a third, and a second. Dee Ford was traded for a second. Odell Beckham Jr. was traded for a first (17th overall), a third (95th overall), and former first round pick Jabrill Peppers. Jalen Ramsey was traded for two firsts and a fourth. Brandin Cooks was traded for a first multiple times.

Houston didn’t receive anything comparable to most of these offers. A first round pick should have been acquired at a minimum in any DeAndre Hopkins trade. Instead, Bill O’Brien was fast and furious. He rushed and took a quick offer instead of the best offer. He didn’t scour to maximize his return for one of the league’s best players.

There isn’t a silver lining here. The Texans didn’t find a diamond in the rough in David Johnson. They traded one of the three best receivers in the league for the Arizona Cardinals’ third best running back. Last season, Johnson had 94 carries for 345 yards, 3.7 yards an attempt, and a rushing DVOA of -11.2%. In the same offense, behind the same offensive line, Chase Edmonds had 60 carries for 303 yards, 5.1 yards an attempt, and a rushing DVOA of -14.8%. Kenyan Drake had 123 carries for 643 yards, 5.2 yards an attempt, and a rushing DVOA of -7.5% (these numbers take in account his time in Miami).

Johnson was the Cardinals’ primary running back until Week SEven. He had one carry for two yards that day before leaving with ankle and back injuries. This gave way to Chase Edmonds for two games and then eventually to Kenyan Drake once he was acquired from the Dolphins. For the rest of the season, Johnson had 23 touches for 100 yards. Johnson was unquestionably the least explosive back the Cardinals had last season.

In Week One against the Lions, Arizona is running a quick pitch right in the clip below. They are blocking outside zone with wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (#11) and right tackle Justin Murray (#71) pulling wide to lead Johnson. Johnson takes the pitch and keeps his eyes on linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin (#44). He doesn’t trust center A.Q. Shipley to snap, pull, and make this block. Rather than sprint to the edge and take this run wide, he’s tentative. Shipley makes his block. Johnson is out of space. He’s late, indecisive, and cuts this directly into pursuit drill defenders.

This is the same play design, but with Chase Edmonds. Unlike Johnson, Edmonds sprints to the edge, trusts his lead blockers, cuts away from one tackler, and turns this into an easy first down. Yes, the blocking is better and he’s running to the wide side of the field, but decisiveness ensures Edmonds can get what the play provides and the athleticism creates even more.

Johnson doesn’t have the speed to get to the edge. He lacks the top end speed and burst that Edmonds and Drake have. On this rushing attempt, Johnson gives up on a well blocked outside run and cuts the run back right into Carlos Dunlap (#96).

The Texans need to sort out out how they are going to run the ball in 2020. Their current offensive line is a conflicting set of styles. Tunsil can block in any scheme. Nick Martin and Max Scharping are better fits in a zone scheme. Zach Fulton and Tytus Howard are better fits in a gap scheme. Houston’s run scheme utilized a little bit of everything last season.

Johnson isn’t particularly good in any scheme, but as a zone back, he is completely out of whack. He is indecisive, misses holes, and his cutbacks are clunky. He’s a magnet who draws defenders into tackle attempts.

Arizona is running outside zone left from the shotgun with four receivers out wide. Johnson has good blocking here. Yet when he bangs this run to the ‘B’ gap, he doesn’t get wide enough and runs into the first level. He tries to cut back behind the first level block. He is wrapped up and turns a successful play into a failure.

It’s outside zone left here and Murray reads the backside defensive end for a possible option play. Johnson makes a nice read here and sets Bobby Wagner up (#54). The backside guard fails to block the second level, taking Johnson directly into the backside linebacker. The problem is the cut is abrupt and clunky. Johnson doesn’t come tight off the center and break into the second level. He’s a Nintendo 64 Claymation fighter, not a smooth and subtle glider.

Johnson’s steps are unusually long. It’s too easy for defenders to grab him by his feet. He hasn’t spent enough time running through tires. Because of this, he gets caught behind blocks too easily. There’s just a general lack of nimbleness here.

In the second half of the 2019 season, Drake was a revelation for Arizona. Johnson was ineffective as a runner. Edmonds lacks the size required to be a between the tackles runner. Drake came in and danced behind the line of scrimmage, made multiple cuts to break into the second level, and then paused time to sprint past open field defenders. The difference between Johnson and Edmonds was noticeable. Johnson and Drake looked like they play two different sports.

When the rare occasions where Johnson had a successful run arose, it usually came out of the shotgun against light boxes. Johnson faced less than eight defenders in the box on 5.32% of his carries, the second lowest in the league out of qualified running backs. Carlos Hyde ran against this situation almost 15% of the time.

Double ‘A’ gap linebackers. Motion pulling defenders. One down block leads Johnson out of Egypt.

In the open field, Johnson cuts away from the safety and towards the rest of Detroit’s defense. There’s a lack of top speed here. He fails to break a tackle and picks up the bare minimum. In 2019, Johnson broke only 6 run tackles and had a total broken tackle rate of 10.8%.

The only thing Johnson does well on the ground is run inside zone blocking plays out of the shotgun against light boxes. These are holes easy to gain ten plus yards on. This is the easiest situation to run the ball in.

When Johnson broke tackles, it typically came in the passing game. Johnson would catch a pass with one defender around him, make him miss, and then carry on for more. He broke 8 tackles on his 36 catches.

This is an angle route out of the backfield against a linebacker. After the reception, Johnson quickly spins out of a tackle attempt and squeezes out a few more drops.

Johnson’s true value comes as a receiver. He caught 36 of his 47 targets, averaged 10.3 yards a catch, had 17 first downs, and posted a receiving DVOA Of 30%—the first positive rate he’s had since 2016. Johnson can run every route out of the backfield: quick curls, flats, seams, angles, wheels down the sidelines. He was the benefactor of playing in Kliff Kingsbury’s spread offense. Most of his receptions were wide open. 10 personnel. Four verticals creating easy dump-offs for Kyler Murray so Johnson could run forever.

A failed screen pass turned into an easy completion, thanks to Kyler Murray dangling around the defense.

The Texans already have a running back whose primary value is as a receiver. O’Brien traded what turned into a third round pick for Duke Johnson last summer. Duke has spent his career as one of the best receiving running backs in the NFL. There’s a redundancy between these Duke and David. As pass catchers, the only difference between the two is that David has been used as a slot receiver to scorch man coverage linebackers. I’m sure Duke could do the same thing if he was ever asked to.

If Bill O’Brien thinks he’s getting an every down running back in David Johnson, he’s incorrect. Da. Johnson isn’t that guy. He hasn’t been since 2016, when he had 293 carries for 1,239 yards, 16 touchdowns, and ran for 4.2 yards an attempt. Over the last three seasons combined, Johnson has 363 carries for 1,308 yards, 9 touchdowns, and 3.6 yards an attempt. He’s suffered a dislocated wrist. Quad. Back and ankle. That jump cutting, squat and explode version of Johnson existed four years ago. He isn’t that player anymore. That version is gone. Johnson is slower, older, and often injured. Kingsbury could only get 3.7 yards a carry out of him in an offense designed to run the ball only in prime situations.

David Johnson is a novelty at this point of his career. He’s a third down running back who can line up at wide receiver and scorch players like Nick Vigil. He isn’t someone who can ESTABLISH THE RUN. He was undeniably Arizona’s worst running back last season. The Cardinals didn’t want him in 2020. If he was truly intent on trading DeAndre Hopkins to the desert, O’Brien could have had least acquired a first round pick and Chase Edmonds in a trade with Arizona to create $10 million in cap space so the team could go get a pass rusher for the 2020 season.

$1,343,750. The 40th overall pick. Moving on from having to pay Hopkins some unrealized, mythical guaranteed money. An expensive running back in his age 28 season who is four years and several injuries removed from his one great NFL season.

That’s what Houston received for a dominant receiver, one of the greatest players in franchise history. This is a complete and total failure.