It's not surprise that Deshaun Watson would love to be reunited with receiver DeAndre Hopkins. But at what price? (TheLandOnDemand)
A reunion of Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins will come down to his price tag
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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for TheLandOnDemand.com and 850 ESPN Cleveland. He has covered the Browns since 1984.
Takeaways from Browns charity golf outing and interviews …
Was Kevin Stefanski just being diplomatic or did he tip the hand of GM Andrew Berry when the subject of acquiring free agent receiver DeAndre Hopkins came up at the Browns’ charity golf event on Tuesday?
It was the first question teed up by assembled media, and the Browns’ coach belted it down the middle of the fairway.
“As you know, I really, really like our wide receiver room,” Stefanski responded. “I love the guys that are in there. Andrew and his crew are always looking at every avenue, and that type of thing. So I won’t comment specifically on the player other than to say I really like our roster.”
Berry has added receivers Elijah Moore, Marquise Goodwin and rookie Cedric Tillman to returning starters Amari Cooper and Donovan Peoples-Jones. There are also young, unproven draft picks such as Anthony Schwartz and David Bell, plus tight ends David Njoku, Harrison Bryant and former Deshaun Watson teammate Jordan Akins. On paper, it’s much improved and more crowded from a year ago.
Can you have too many receivers, Stefanski was asked.
“Probably not,” he answered. “I don’t think you can have too many of anything, honestly. Coach [Mike] Zimmer used to say you can’t have too many corners.”
Then came this caveat: “You always want as many good players [as possible], but it’s got to be the right fit, all those things.”
Watson’s all in
It should come as no surprise that Watson is all in with reuniting with Hopkins.
In three years with Watson at quarterback with the Houston Texans, Hopkins averaged 107 receptions for 1,380 yards and nine touchdowns – numbers that earned him two first team All-Pro selections and votes on two occasions for the AP offensive player-of-the-year award.
“Me and D-Hop, we just naturally talk,” Watson said. “We’ve been talking since the Houston days and when he went to Arizona we’ve always been talking. He’s always been a brother of mine since I was coming out of high school. Our connection, our relationship, has always been great.
“I know there’s a lot of things floating around in the media, him possibly coming to Cleveland. For me, my answer to that is, of course, we would love to have him. He knows that. We have a lot of connections. But that’s kind of out of my range of things. All I can do is make a call and see what happens and let AB do the rest.”
They certainly made each other better.
“He just makes throws a lot easier,” Watson said. “His range, catch radius, is super -- probably the best in the league. Just the things he [does] could make my job a lot easier. I just put the ball in his direction and he made the plays.
“I think any situation for D-Hop would be good. Of course with me, having another weapon along with all the other great weapons we have in that locker room and that receiver room, we always love to add talent.”
If Watson and Hopkins talk as much as Watson said they do, then Watson must know the salary range Hopkins is seeking.
The Baltimore Ravens set the market for Hopkins when they signed Odell Beckham Jr. for a fully-guaranteed $15 million for one year. That deal reportedly blew up trade talks with the Kansas City Chiefs for Hopkins. When the Chiefs balked, the Arizona Cardinals released Hopkins, making him a free agent.
According to Overthecap.com, the Browns are sitting on $6.991 million of salary cap space. That will increase by $10 million when the releases of John Johnson and Jadevon Clowney take effect on June 2. However, that $10 million in additional cap space may have been already budgeted for future emergency acquisitions, if needed, during the season.
On the I Am Athlete podcast, Hopkins talked of what he is seeking with a new team. He said he desired stable management, a quarterback “who loves the game like I do,” and a great defense.
“I’ll just say this,” Watson said. “D-Hop, DeAndre Hopkins, would love to be in a place where the opportunity is there for us to win. We check all those boxes. For us to know we check those boxes, we have to go out and prove it. And I think D-Hop would love to be a part of that in Cleveland.”
The most important box, however, is the one unsaid – the money.
Watson feeling more comfortable
With his past controversies fading by the day, and the second year of familiarity with his coaches and teammates growing stronger, Watson said he feels “a lot better” about his second season with the Browns.
“I think you guys can see it too just the way I’m speaking and the way I react with other people around here,” he said. “Last year was a weird situation where everything was new and a lot was going on. Having a fresh start and having a year behind me and being able to be around people who support me and love me for who I am is definitely great and made me feel well. I’m excited, love the city, been hanging around Cleveland a long time this offseason and just want to build on that.”
No disrespect intended
Being out of sight and out of mind for upwards of three years now, Watson has disappeared from conversations of the top elite quarterbacks in the NFL. He understands that and is motivated to climb his way back into those conversations.
“I’m very motivated,” he said. “I’m very excited to have those opportunities and go out there and prove what I have been before and even better. That’s the goal, to be better than what people last saw me.
“Honestly, people are entitled to their own opinions. At the same time, you have to respect their opinions. I missed two years of football. If I was in their shoes, I wouldn’t put myself in that position, either. I have to go out there and prove it and that’s what I’m looking forward to. So those opportunities for me this upcoming season, I have to take advantage of them.”
Watson isn’t ready to declare himself “rust-free” from those 700 days without live action in 2020 and 2021. He knows nothing he says now will matter nearly as much as when he returns to action in real games in September.
“I think the biggest thing is just knowing who I am and show that I can go out there and make every play,” he said. “And be very, very sharp and conservative. There are times I need to make those plays and [times to] let the other people around me make those plays. Building that confidence and getting back to Deshaun Watson, that’s the key. That’s what I’ve been working on this offseason.”