Should the Buffalo Bills Risk Signing WR DeAndre Hopkins?

Should the Buffalo Bills Risk Signing WR DeAndre Hopkins?

DeAndre Hopkins is a free agent for the first time in his career. This comes after a somewhat surprising release from the Arizona Cardinals on Friday. They appear to be eating all the dead cap from his contract now rather than waiting until June 1st to spread out the cap hit.

So while Arizona moves to rebuild under new management, the veteran wide receiver looks for a new home. Buffalo has been heavily interested for a while, at one point looking to trade for him, but his contract prevented them from bringing him in.

While Hopkins is an incredibly appealing player to get the Bills to the Super Bowl, he does come with some injury concerns. There is a legitimate concern that he may be past his prime, especially with decreased production and availability over the past two seasons.

Below is DeAndre Hopkins publicly reported injury history and concerns. 

DeAndre Hopkins Injury History

2013 Houston Texans

Concussion, preseason, missed 2 preseason games.

Hopkins started his NFL career off with a concussion suffered in the preseason, missing the remaining two games. He was probable for Week 1, suiting up for his NFL debut. 

Illness, Week 12, missed 0 games.

Hopkins was questionable with an illness heading into Week 12 before eventually playing.  

Ankle, side not specified, Week 14, missed 0 games.

Hopkins appeared on the injury report with an ankle designation and questionable heading into Week 15. He was able to play despite probable designations the following two weeks. 

2014 Texans

Illness, Week 3, missed 0 games.

Hopkins was probable dealing with an illness heading into Week 3. 

Hand, side not specified, Week 6, missed 0 games.

Appeared on the injury report with a hand designation following a Week 6 injury, listed as probable.

Ankle, side not specified, Week 15, missed 0 games.

Hopkins was unable to practice all week before being officially listed as questionable. He still played in 100 of snaps that game.

Right wrist injury, Week 16, missed 0 games.

Hopkins suffered a right wrist injury in Week 16, leaving him probable for the season finale. During that final game, he had two receptions for five yards, his worst game of the season. After the season, he underwent surgery to repair a torn ligament in his wrist.

2015 Texans

Concussion, Week 2, missed 0 games.

Hopkins suffered a concussion in Week 2 before being designated as probable and clearing protocol to play in Week 3. He did speak with the media following the game which is typically not allowed while in concussion protocol, suggesting he may have had delayed symptoms.

Knee, side not specified, Week 10, missed 0 games.

Despite appearing on the injury report and missing practice, Hopkins played the following week. 

Hamstring, side not specified, Week 12, missed 0 games.

Hopkins was a late addition to the injury report with a hamstring strain. Despite playing through the injury, he lingered on the injury report for two weeks with a probable designation for his minor hamstring strain. 

Hand, side not specified, Week 17, missed 0 games.

Hopkins suffered a hand injury in the regular season finale before being deemed probable for the Wild Card game, losing to the Kansas City Chiefs.

2016 Texans

No publicly reported injuries.

2017 Texans

Hand injury, side not specified, preseason.

According to reports, Hopkins missed two weeks of practice as he recovered from a hand injury in the first preseason game. 

Toe, side not specified, Week 14, missed 0 games.

Hopkins suffered a toe injury, causing him to be added to the report that Thursday. Due to his practice participation, that led him to be questionable the following week but he suited up, keeping his consecutive games played streak alive. 

Left calf, Week 16, missed 1 game.

Hopkins finally missed the first game of his career, suffering a left calf injury the prior week as the Texans limped to a 4-12 record that year. 

2018 Texans

Foot, side not specified, Week 1, missed 0 games.

Suffering a foot injury in the season opener, Hopkins was questionable heading into Week 2 before ultimately playing. Reports indicated that it nagged him all season.

Thumb/ankle/hamstring, side not specified, Week 3, missed 0 games.

Immediately after his foot injury, he suffered a thumb injury that led him to be questionable the following week. The article stated that he was dealing with the previously mentioned foot injury along with an ankle and hamstring issue

Ankle, side not specified, Week 15, missed 0 games.

Working through an injury-plagued season, Hopkins once again appeared on the injury report with an ankle injury, questionable the next game. 

Grade 3 AC Joint sprain, right shoulder, Wild Card game vs Indianapolis.

According to Hopkins, he suffered a significant AC joint sprain in his right shoulder during the playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts. He stated he tore ligament in the shoulder off the bone in the first half of the game and essentially played one handed for the remainder of the game. 

He did not require surgery to repair the damage, but did start on PUP to begin training camp the following season. He was activated five days later to begin his season.

2019 Texans

Illness, Week 17, missed 1 game.

Illness struck Hopkins, forcing him out of the regular season finale. The Texans already had a playoff spot locked up by that point, allowing him to rest. 

2020 Arizona Cardinals

Hamstring, side not specified, preseason.

Hopkins sat out several preseason practices as he worked through hamstring tightness, but did not miss any games.

Ankle, side not specified, Week 3, missed 0 games.

Missing practice earlier in the week, Hopkins played through an ankle injury the following week despite the questionable designation. 

Ankle, side not specified, Week 6, missed 0 games.

It’s unclear whether this was the same ankle injury from Week 3, but he continued to play through the injuries as he had all the years previously.

Neck/back, Week 13, missed 0 games.

Hopkins worked through a neck/back injury that led him to be questionable for the following week. It’s not clear what the issue was or whether it was neck and low back or more of a thoracic issue.

2021 Cardinals

Ribs, side not specified, Week 2, missed 0 games.

Working through a rib injury, he missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday that week. Hopkins played the following game but with a questionable designation, leading to a game day decision.

Hamstring, side not specified, Week 7, missed 3 total games.

After exiting the game in Week 7, Hopkins sat out the rest of the game. He attempted to play through the hamstring strain, Hopkins made it worse the following week, forcing him out of the next three contests.

Even when he did return, he still carried a questionable designation for the following week. questionable the following week. 

Right knee MCL tear, Week 14, sent to IR, missed 5 games.

Late in the game against the Los Angeles Rams, Hopkins went up with several Rams defenders trying to haul in a touchdown pass. When he came down, one of the defenders landed on Hopkins’ right knee with his leg fully straightened. He was in some discomfort coming off and a brief shot of him on the sideline showed him trying to work the knee out. As there was one minute left in the game, he did not return but an MRI and further testing showed he tore his MCL, requiring surgery.

It’s important to note that no reports indicate the right knee as the surgical side, but considering the mechanism for an injury like that, this is the most likely side. Hopkins had surgery to repair the damage, going to injured reserve. There was discussion whether he coud return during the playoffs, but considering the Cardinals lost in the Wild Card round, he was done for the year.

2022 Cardinals

PED suspension, missed first 6 games of the season.

Hamstring, side not specified, Week 10, missed 0 games.

Another hamstring injury popped up, leaving Hopkins questionable for the following week. It’s worth highlighting that he had his lowest snap count of the season at 69 percent but had 9 receptions for 91 yards. 

Right knee, Week 16, missed 2 games.

Hopkins left practice that Friday with knee issues that forced him out of the final two games of the season. There is an assumption that he had problems with the right knee that was surgically corrected. Official reports indicated that he was dealing with a knee flare up, but others suggested that he sat out the last two games as the team finished 4-13 last year. 

Injury Overview

It’s a lengthy injury history for a player that has been in the league since 2013. And I’m sure that this isn’t even everything.  

There wasn’t an expectation that he would be injury free, but he’s played through a ton of injuries. Officially, he has missed 18 games in his career, but six of those were due to suspension and one was a playoff game, leaving him at 11 regular season games. 

Breaking it down further, four of those games were for his season-ending knee injury, leaving him with just seven games, mostly for soft tissue issues. 

Looking back through all of the injuries, his recent knee injury with surgery along with hamstrings and calf injuries are the main concerns. Despite his wrist surgery and significant AC joint sprain, those were several years ago and he has had exceptional production after returning.

Hopkins had his second worst statistical season last year, partially due to the suspension along with Kyler Murray missing the last six games of the season. It’s possible that he was never fully healthy coming off the knee injury from the prior year. 

MCL Injury

However, looking at NFL Combine participants with MCL injuries, there is no statistical difference in terms of availability or production regarding non-operative vs operative outcomes. While these are statistics and research, there are always exceptions. 

This type of data typically applies to the professional level when projecting out concerns. Furthermore, additional research indicates that those collegiate athletes that underwent MCL surgery were able to return to pre-injury level of competition. DeAndre Hopkins’ MCL injury shouldn’t be an issue moving forward.

But he may be dealing with other issues from all the years of football. The knee flare-up from last year is something to note, but it’s not clear if this was from the same issue.

Credit: East Africa Ortho

Throughout his career, Hopkins has always been the number one receiving option which has meant he has been forced to play through a ton of injuries. But over the last two years, his availability has fallen off, missing 10 games over the past two years due to injury, PED suspension excluded. Was this bad luck or is this the culmination of all the injuries and years of football finally coming to a head? Is Hopkins approaching the cliff?

Comparable Player Concern

Looking at a comparable player injury-wise, Julio Jones comes to mind. Jones was insanely productive during his career with the Atlanta Falcons despite a litany of injuries. He didn’t miss much time outside of a 2013 foot fracture that limited him to five games. He began missing extended time his final season in Atlanta, his tenth in the league. Soft tissue injuries have dominated his most recent injuries, notably hamstrings.

Credit: USA Today

When he was traded to the Tennessee Titans, the  Falcons at least got something for him in trading him for second and fourth round picks. Jones never got healthy during his time with the Titans before being released and signing with Tampa Bay the following season. Unfortunately, injuries continued to pile on as he suffered a PCL tear.

Coming back to Hopkins, how much does he warrant on the open market? What does he have left production wise? His injury history strongly suggests that he will suffer some sort of injury again; a high probability being a hamstring strain.

Hopkins has been making every effort to take care of his body recently and that includes working out in Toronto. Playing in Arizona didn’t do Hopkins any favors either with how poor the facilities and training staff are according to the NFLPA survey. 

Buffalo Bills Risk

There is a risk to signing any player, especially on the back end of their career. The hope is that several more high-end years can be squeezed out of Hopkins here in Buffalo. I am concerned about his availability, but he has the training facility to take care of himself in Buffalo and he is very close to Toronto for additional treatment. He will not have to be the number one receiver, but can still contribute and make a significant difference.

I expect there to be sticker shock if Hopkins signs with Buffalo, but I believe Brandon Beane will mitigate the risk by structuring the contract in a way that they can pay him but get out if they need to move on. We know that the Bills were interested in trading for him prior to Hopkins getting cut but they could not come to an agreement. 

With the Super Bowl window as open as it is, the Bills should be looking to upgrade anywhere they can. Cover 1’s Greg Tompsett broke down what a contract could look like for Hopkins to sign in Buffalo and who would need to restructure. It’s doable and it doesn’t significantly mortgage the future.

Looking at it all, I do have some hesitation, but Hopkins is worth a shot at the right price. His production is insane when he plays and no matter who he plays with. Even if he misses time due to injury, he may still be worth it for Buffalo to sign. I would expect that the Bills still maintain their wide receiver depth by not trading anyone notable in the event that Hopkins doesn’t pan out.

I don’t believe the Bills would be getting All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins, but he’s still better than a majority of the other receivers in the league when healthy.

Hopkins’ legacy is on the line. If he can help Buffalo win a Super Bowl, he can ride off into the sunset towards Canton.