How Cardinals' DeAndre Hopkins trade affects 49ers in strong NFC West

How Cardinals' DeAndre Hopkins trade affects 49ers in strong NFC West

The bottom of the NFC West might have gotten a whole lot closer to the top of the division on Monday.

Dynamic Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray already had the steady services of veteran receiver Larry Fitzgerald. On Monday, the Cardinals added one of the top playmaking wide receivers in the game.

Former Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins is coming to the NFC West to terrorize defensive backs in the Pacific Time Zone.

Hopkins and a fourth-round pick were traded Monday to Cardinals in exchange for running back David Johnson and a second-round pick this year and a fourth-round pick next year, the Houston Chronicle's John McClain reported.

The Cardinals finished last in the division last season with a 5-10-1 record with Murray at quarterback as a rookie. Arizona invested the No. 1 overall pick of the draft in Murray, allowing the 49ers to select Nick Bosa with the second pick.

The 49ers won the NFC West last season with a 13-3 record, followed by the Seattle Seahawks (11-5) and Los Angeles Rams (9-7).

The 49ers’ pass rush likely will be the team’s plan for dealing with explosive passing attacks. The 49ers on Monday agreed to terms with free-agent-to-be Arik Armstead on a five-year contract that could average as much as $17 million a season.

Armstead led the 49ers last season with 10 sacks during the regular season. Armstead, DeForest Buckner, Nick Bosa and Dee Ford provide the 49ers with a top-level defensive line and the strength of the team.

The 49ers’ pass defense ranked No. 1 in the NFL last season, due mostly to the team’s pass rush that made it difficult for quarterbacks to deliver the ball down the field.

The addition of Hopkins gives the Cardinals and Murray one of the best in the game at his job.

Hopkins, 27, a seven-year pro, registered 1,000-yard receiving seasons in five of the past six seasons. In his career, Hopkins has averaged more than 90 receptions for nearly 1,230 yards and eight touchdowns.

[RELATED: Report: 49ers made run at adding Hooper to pair with Kittle]

The 49ers might feel the need to increase their competition and depth at cornerback at the prospect of going up against Hopkins and Fitzgerald twice a season.

Richard Sherman, 31, who was selected to the Pro Bowl last season, enters the final year of his contract. Emmanuel Moseley and Ahkello Witherspoon enter the offseason as the top cornerbacks on the other side.

49ers' Jimmy Garoppolo absorbs Joe Montana's wisdom about winning

49ers' Jimmy Garoppolo absorbs Joe Montana's wisdom about winning

Throughout NFL history, of quarterbacks to start at least 100 career games, only Tom Brady (.773) and Roger Staubach (.746) have posted better regular-season winning percentages than 49ers legend Joe Montana (.713). So, when it comes to knowing the secrets to victory, he's a pretty good source of advice.

Montana won 117 of his 164 career regular-season starts, precisely 100 victories of which came with San Francisco. On Wednesday, he posted a photo on Instagram from the final one of those wins with the 49ers, in which he offered up a secret to his success.

"Winners, I am convinced, imagine their dreams first," Montana wrote. "They want it with all their heart and expect it to come true. There is, I believe, no other way to live."
As of the time of this writing, that post had received 15,685 likes, one of which came from another 49ers quarterback who happens to have a knack for winning as well -- Jimmy Garoppolo.

[RELATED: Where Jimmy G, Carr rank among NFL starting quarterbacks]

Jimmy G, of course, displayed his penchant for winning immediately upon joining the 49ers, winning his first five starts after San Francisco acquired him midway through the 2017 season. Across 24 regular-season starts with the 49ers, he has posted a 19-5 record (.792). Not to mention, he was arguably one missed completion away from winning Super Bowl LIV.

Garoppolo might have his own secrets to his success, but it certainly can't hurt if he picks up a thing or two from Joe Cool.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

NFL rumors: George Kittle, 49ers 'not close at all' on new contract

NFL rumors: George Kittle, 49ers 'not close at all' on new contract

George Kittle is the best tight end in the NFL. He just doesn't want to be paid like it.

Kittle arguably is the 49ers' best overall player, and an indispensable part of their operation. He is a leader in the locker room, their top receiving threat and his blocking ability is closer to that of an above-average offensive lineman. Perhaps that's why his agent is looking to get him paid -- not as a tight end, receiver or linemen -- but rather, some combination of those positions.

"I've been talking a lot to [Kittle's] agent, Jack Bechta, over the last couple of months and he has consistently said, 'I don't care about the tight end market; I'm being paid to do a George Kittle deal,'" NFL Network's Michael Silver said Friday on "NFL Total Access." "And I tend to agree with him here. He is their No. 1 target, so important in that locker room, and clearly, he is doing something that transcends what a typical tight end does."

Last season, Kittle led San Francisco with 85 receptions (on 107 targets) for 1,053 yards despite missing two games due to injury. His 3,106 receiving yards (including the playoffs) are the most ever in NFL history by a tight end in his first three seasons. And, as Silver noted, with Kittle in the lineup last season, the 49ers -- heading into Super Bowl LIV -- averaged 5.6 yards on rushes outside of the tackles; when he was out of the lineup, that number dropped to 3.3 yards.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

He is a dynamic offensive weapon, which adds to the complexity of his contract negotiations. Back in 2014, Bears tight end Jimmy Graham signed a four-year, $40 million contract that reset the market at that position, and in the time since, there has been minimal growth. According to Over the Cap, Chargers tight end Hunter Henry currently averages the highest annual salary at the position at $10.607 million.

It isn't expected to be a quick or simple negotiation, and it's easy to see why. San Francisco, of course, would love to secure Kittle on as low of an agreeable salary as possible, but it's assumed both sides have differing opinions -- at least initially -- on exactly what that would be.

And, as Silver reported, it doesn't sound like Kittle and the 49ers are closing in on a deal anytime soon.

"They're not close at all," Silver said. "There were some preliminary talks back in February; nothing for the last couple months. ... This is a difficult situation because during a pandemic, owners are not super eager to shell out massive deals. There's a lot of uncertainty. And so I'm not sure how much of this situation can be attributed to the unique COVID-19 situation, and how much of it is just a gap in how each side views this. I know there's a lot of good intention. You talk to the 49ers, they say, 'We want him. We will get this done.' I know George Kittle wants to be there, but they have a ways to go in terms of figuring out his value."

[RELATED: Pay the man: Why Kittle deserves to be paid like top WR]

Ultimately, if San Francisco and Kittle can't come to an agreement, the 49ers always have the option of applying the franchise tag on him next offseason when he is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent. That would pay him the average of the top-five players at his position in 2021.

Of course, first, they must come to an agreement on what his position is.