The New England Patriots need a true No. 1 wide receiver. The Arizona Cardinals happen to have one in DeAndre Hopkins, who has a longtime admirer in Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and is on a team that just hired a former Patriots executive in general manager Monti Ossenfort.
Seems like the recipe for a trade, right?
Perhaps. But there's a complication: New England just hired Bill O'Brien as its offensive coordinator. O'Brien was Hopkins' head coach for six seasons in Houston and traded the talented wide receiver to Arizona as the Texans' GM in March 2020.
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An NFC executive recently suggested to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler that O'Brien and Hopkins "maybe" could co-exist if the Patriots trade for Hopkins. But there's a lot of history between the two.
Here's timeline of that history, which is important to keep in mind amid speculation of a Hopkins trade.
Texans general manager Rick Smith selects Hopkins with the 27th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Hopkins posts decent stats as a rookie -- 52 receptions for 802 yards with two touchdowns -- but Houston goes 2-14 and fires head coach Gary Kubiak in early December.
2014 to 2019
O'Brien takes over as Houston's new head coach in January 2014, and the move appears to benefit Hopkins. The wide receiver racks up 1,210 yards and six touchdowns on 76 catches in 2014, then makes four Pro Bowls over the next five seasons.
The Texans sign Hopkins to a five-year, $81 million contract extension in August 2017 after drafting quarterback Deshaun Watson that spring, and the fellow Clemson alumni form a dynamic duo, with Hopkins earning three consecutive First-Team All-Pro nods in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
O'Brien assumes general manager responsibilities in January 2020, then shockingly trades Hopkins and a fourth-round pick to the Cardinals in March for running back David Johnson, a 2020 second-round pick, and a 2021 fourth-round pick.
On March 18, Michael Irvin appears on ESPN's "Get Up!" and shares what Hopkins told him about his relationship with O'Brien.
"He told me, he said, 'Michael, it was a bit of a power struggle there' because Coach O'Brien thought [Hopkins] had too much influence over the locker room," Irvin said.
Irvin then claims O'Brien called Hopkins into a meeting and said, "Hey, the last time I had to have a meeting like this, it was with Aaron Hernandez."
Per Irvin, Hopkins was stunned that O'Brien would bring up Hernandez, the former Patriots tight end who was convicted of murder in 2015 and committed suicide in prison. The relationship "deteriorated" from there, according to Irvin.
"(O'Brien) got into talking about DeAndre Hopkins," Irvin says. "DeAndre Hopkins has a few kids from different women, and he said, he told DeAndre he doesn't like that he has his 'baby mamas' around sometimes. And from that, I think the relationship just went bad."
In an interview with Sports Illustrated's Greg Bishop, Hopkins claims he has "no relationship" with O'Brien.
"There was no relationship," Hopkins tells Bishop. "Make sure you put that in there. There’s not a lot to speak about."
Hopkins appears to take an indirect shot at O'Brien and the Texans. After his Cardinals win their season opener against the San Francisco 49ers and Houston suffers a 31-7 blowout loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, Hopkins sends a one-word tweet: "Grateful."
The Texans fire O'Brien after an 0-4 start, and Hopkins takes the high road in his reaction to the news.
"Of course I saw it, it was all over the internet, a lot of memes and stuff with me in it and my name, but I wish bad on no one," Hopkins says, via Darren Urban of the Cardinals' team website. "... Hopefully he can have success somewhere else."
It's possible that Hopkins and O'Brien have let bygones be bygones. But it's hard to imagine O'Brien going out of his way to endorse the Patriots' addition of a wide receiver he traded away from Houston less than three years ago.