Just as the future was beginning to look bright for the Arizona Cardinals, it has been looking rough since Week 14. They led not only the NFC West, but the entire conference for much of the season. Then No. 1 wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins went down with a torn MCL in a home loss to a division rival, the Los Angeles Rams. With Hopkins out they would go onto lose three of their last four regular season games, and got drilled in wild-card playoff loss on the road to the Rams, 34-11.
It might be difficult for the Cardinals to get off to the same blazing start that they did last season, because as of now, they are going to be without one of the best wide receivers in the NFL for the first six games of the season. ESPN’s Adam Schefter is reporting that Hopkins will be suspended six games due to a violation of the league’s performance enhancing drug policy. No COVID vaccine, but he’s using substances banned by the NFL. Maybe he’s just scared of needles.
That is not thrilling news for the Cardinals for a few reasons. The main one, is that their offense is significantly better with Hopkins in the lineup. With a balanced roster, their defense finished the season ninth in weighted DVOA, Kliff Kingsbury’s bunch looks on paper like a team that’s ready to be a contender in a less than stellar NFC. Without the threat that Hopkins provides as an unguardable force at wide receiver, 114 receptions for 1,407 yards in his first season with the Cardinals in 2020, it makes life much more difficult for their undersized quarterback, Kyler Murray.
Speaking of Murray, the Cardinals relationship with him has been a bit rocky since the playoff loss. He reportedly pulled himself out of the game at the end and later during the offseason scrubbed his social media accounts of anything that had to do with the Cardinals. The organization reportedly felt that he needs to be a better leader and take more accountability.
In recent weeks the relationship appears to have improved. Murray released a statement that he is committed to the Cardinals, even though he and some other veterans will not report to voluntary team offseason conditioning. The Cardinals also appear to be willing to give him what he surely wants, some of that real quarterback money. The 2019 No. 1 overall pick has proven to be a dynamic player and led the franchise to its first playoff berth since 2015. Cardinals general manager Steve Keim told Adam Schein on Sirius XM’s Mad Dog Radio that with the draft complete, they can take the time this summer to negotiate with Murray — which is when, he said, deals for players like him usually get done.
Fortunately for them, they made a move to strengthen their receiving corps with their draft day trade to acquire Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, a former teammate of Murray’s at Oklahoma. It’s move Murray is certainly in favor of, and they had better rediscover their connection from the 2018 season quickly, because it’s not like Brown was putting up Hopkins like statistics with the Baltimore Ravens, even during Lamar Jackson’s 2020 MVP season.
These two under-6 footers will have to join forces with another fleet-of-foot member of their club, Rondale Moore, to try and be quick enough to keep this team competitive until Hopkins can provide the offense with what made people judge the competency of the Houston Texans for not retaining him. Hopkins is a player who is open on almost every single down. He doesn’t have to be streaking past someone or run a perfectly timed route. Sometimes he can simply run to a spot, turn around, and use his athleticism and size to go and take the football out of the air.
While the Cardinals took the right step to try and mitigate this loss, they’re still going to be without one of the best players in the NFL for more that third of the 2022 season. Another bit of bad news in a tough offseason, in which they should’ve been allowed to pat themselves on the back for a second. They did make the playoffs for the first time since Peyton Manning was still in the NFL.