Grading major deals: Texans flunk with Hopkins trade; Colts, Dolphins, Bills shine
From left: Stars DeForest Buckner (now Colts), De'Andre Hopkins (Cardinals) and Byron Jones (Dolphins) have new teams. USA TODAY Sports: Gary A. Vasquez | Jay Biggerstaff | Robert Hanashiro

Grading major deals: Texans flunk with Hopkins trade; Colts, Dolphins, Bills shine

Texans send Hopkins to Arizona | Texans grade: F | Cardinals grade: A 

HOUSTON: Just ... why? The entire NFL world wants to know.

Coach/de facto GM Bill O'Brien's deal of elite receiver De'Andre Hopkins to the Cardinals for running back David Johnson and a 2020 second-rounder and a fourth-rounder in 2021 is mind-boggling. (Houston also sent a fourth-rounder in this year's draft to Arizona.)

Hopkins had such a great chemistry with franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson. Over three years together, Watson completed 70.9% of his passes in Hopkins' direction for 8.7 yards per attempt and 25 touchdowns, earning a 110.3 passer rating on those throws. 

Trading an elite wide receiver for a running back and mild draft compensation is puzzling enough in a vacuum, but it is even more unforgivable when the running back in question simply is not very good. Since his All-Pro season in 2016, Johnson has averaged just 3.6 yards per rush attempt, amassing nearly as many fumbles (6) as rushing touchdowns (9). Sure, Johnson makes a great impact as a receiver. His career averages of 35.8 receiving yards per game and 7.2 yards per target are outstanding for a running back (eighth and fourth, respectively, among 59 qualifiers since 2015). 

But does Johnson help Watson nearly as much as Hopkins? Absolutely not. O'Brien has some explaining to do. 

ARIZONA: With transition-tagged RB Kenyan Drake presumably set to return, the Cardinals had no need for Johnson and his immense $14.2 million cap hit. In 2019, Drake was excellent over eight games in Arizona after being acquired from Miami, averaging 80.4 rushing yards (5.2 per attempt) and collecting eight touchdowns on the ground. 

Kudos to the Cardinals for taking advantage of a team that is now building a reputation of giving away star talent for much too little. Hopkins, a seven-year vet, is going to work wonders for Kyler Murray in his second professional season. Since 2014, Hopkins has the second-most receiving yards (7,800) and receiving touchdowns (52) of any wide receiver in the league. Hopkins will actually have a slightly lower cap hit in 2020 ($14 million) than Johnson. That is a major coup for Kliff Kingsbury's squad.

WR Stephon Diggs traded to Bills | Vikings grade: B | Bills grade: A

MINNESOTA: It was clear that a Diggs exodus was inevitable. The Vikings got excellent compensation for their stud wideout. Buffalo gave up first-, fifth- and sixth-round selections in the 2020 Draft and tossed in a fourth-rounder in 2021. Minnesota sent Diggs and a seventh-rounder in this year's draft to Buffalo.

Kirk Cousins and the Vikings will certainly miss Diggs, who is second in franchise history behind Randy Moss with 66.0 receiving yards per game (minimum 10 games played). Cousins averaged 12 yards per attempt throwing in Diggs' direction this past season. However, Minnesota sorely needed draft ammunition to add depth and youth to a roster that is cap-strapped for the next few years. The Vikings got a worthy haul of picks for Diggs. Now, GM Rick Spielman must make them count, because Diggs is quite the loss for a team hoping to compete for a championship this season.

BUFFALO: The Bills did what they needed to do in the 2019 offseason, adding weapons to surround QB Josh Allen. Cole Beasley and John Brown turned out to be great additions, combining for 1,838 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns.

However, good franchises know that there is no such thing as giving a quarterback too much help. Providing Allen with even more weaponry is a top priority in 2020, and the Bills hit a home run with Diggs. He is 14th in receiving yards over the past two seasons with 2,151 (70.7 per game). 

Yes, the Bills paid a steep price to get Diggs, but he offers a versatile array of upper-echelon skills (route-running, hands, explosiveness) that will give Buffalo one of the best wide receiver trios in the league. Still only 26, (he will turn 27 in November), Diggs has plenty of mileage left on his tires. GM Brandon Beane and the Buffalo front office could hardly have done a better job of supporting Allen over the past three years. 

QB Marcus Mariota to Las Vegas | Grade: B+

Mariota, who was replaced as starter by Ryan Tannehill last season for the Titans, offers high-level backup potential for the Raiders. Mariota has thrown for 7.5 yards per attempt in his career, never falling below 7.1 in a season. He owns an 89.6 passer rating and has eclipsed 90.0 in four of his five seasons. That is top-tier for a backup. The Raiders now have an intriguing relief option if Derek Carr goes down ... or slumps.

Kyle Van Noy to Miami | Grade: B 

This move is all about one thing -- familiarity. Van Noy will reunite with his former linebackers coach in New England, Brian Flores, Miami's head coach. Flores should have a good understanding of where Van Noy fits best. Van Noy moved to the edge in 2019, and enjoyed his best season in that new position, recording 57 pressures (20th among edge rushers) and 20 run stops (13th). There is some risk for Miami, which hopes Van Noy's breakout season was not an outlier. If Flores fails to use Van Noy correctly, or Van Noy simply regresses, Miami may regret the four-year, $51 million deal.


Veteran Byron Jones (left) has missed only one game in his NFL career. Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

CB Byron Jones to Miami | Grade: A

Miami surpassed expectations throughout a 2019 season in which many thought it could go winless. But there was one facet where it did perform as poorly as expected: pass defense. The Dolphins yielded a league-high 39 touchdown passes and tied for a league worst with 7.4 net yards per pass attempt allowed.

Adding talent to the secondary was a key goal for the Dolphins heading into this offseason. So Miami targeted the most talented defensive back on the open market in Jones. The former Cowboy allowed just 0.62 yards per cover snap in 2019, which ranked second best among outside cornerbacks, behind only Richard Sherman. Over 536 snaps in coverage (24th most among CBs), Jones allowed the 90th-most yards (331).

Jones' 2019 success was no fluke. Over his three seasons at cornerback (2015 and 2018-19, as he played safety from 2016-17), Jones has on average ranked in the 82nd percentile of fewest yards allowed per cover snap among corners.

Jones also provides durability, as he has missed only one game in his career, in 2019. The one concern with Jones is his age. He'll turn 28 during the season, so Jones is nearing the point where cornerbacks tend to hit the wall. 

Javon Hargrave to Philadelphia | Grade: A

The Eagles' defensive line just got stronger. Casual onlookers may scoff at Philly's three-year, $39 million ($26 million guaranteed) commitment to the former Steeler, but he has quietly been a pressure machine on the inside. Hargrave collected 49 pressures in 2019, 10th most among interior defensive linemen. His pressure rate of 14.2% was third best. He is going to cause havoc next to Fletcher Cox, who draws a ton of double-teams. This is a savvy move by Philadelphia, which bolstered its pass defense in a unique way.


Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner had 7.5 sacks last season for the 49ers. Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

49ers trade Buckner to Indy | Colts grade:  A | 49ers grade: B

ZACH LINKS | PRO FOOTBALL RUMORS: In this stunner, the Colts will ship their first-round pick (No. 13 overall) to the 49ers for defensive lineman DeForest Buckner. Buckner’s new pact with the Colts will pay him $21M per year and make him the second-highest paid defensive tackle in league history, behind Aaron Donald of the Rams. 

The former No. 7 overall pick was exceptional in 2019 and awarded an All-Pro selection for his performance. The Oregon product tallied 62 tackles, nine tackles for a loss, and 7.5 sacks last year as the 49ers rumbled their way to the Super Bowl. 

The deal leaves the Niners with a major hole to fill on their world-class defensive front. The deal also gives them additional draft artillery. The 49ers now own two first-round picks (Nos. 13 and 31 overall), which they could quickly pivot into a larger stockpile. 

Also Monday, the 49ers struck a deal to keep defensive lineman Arik Armstead for the long haul. His five-year deal, potentially worth $85M, seemed to signal that the Niners would be keeping the band together. Instead, it was one half of a difficult choice the 49ers felt they had to make. With the trade, the Niners will be able to spend cash elsewhere and replenish with younger talent in the draft.

TE Austin Hooper to Browns | Grade: A

In 2019, Baker Mayfield regressed in second season. Adding Hooper, the best tight end on the free-agent market, is a great place to start, as Cleveland did not have any reliable threats at the position last season.

Former first-round pick David Njoku, taken by Cleveland in 2017, has struggled to fulfill his potential. He has averaged just 29.6 yards per game over the course of his career. Njoku was limited to four games in 2019, and averaged just 10.3 yards a game when healthy. Njoku's primary replacement was Ricky Seals-Jones, who averaged 16.4 yards per game.

Hooper, who played four seasons for the Falcons, gives Cleveland the big-bodied weapon (6-foot-4, 254 pounds)  it was missing last year. Only 25, he ranked third among tight ends with 0.46 receiving touchdowns per game (six in 13 games) and fifth with 60.5 receiving yards per game (787 yards total) in 2019. Hooper will give Cleveland a huge boost in the red zone. His total of six red zone scores in 2019 tied for the third most among tight ends.

For his career, Hooper has grabbed 14 touchdown passes over 41 red zone targets, a rate of 34.1%. well above the league average of 23.1%. 

OT Jack Conklin to Browns | Grade: A-minus

After a rough season of protection in front of Baker Mayfield, the Browns needed help on the bookends. Conklin gives them a huge upgrade at right tackle. He posted a Pro Football Focus grade of 78.3, which landed him at the 85th percentile among tackles. He is particularly strong in the run game, where he ranked at the 95th percentile with an 80.5 run blocking grade. The downside for Cleveland is that Conklin is not a great pass protector. Throughout his four years, Conklin has on average ranked at the 55th percentile among tackles in pass blocking grade. Nevertheless, the Browns got themselves a strong value (three years, $42 million) for a player who fills a major need and will be only 26 in August.

QB Case Keenum to Browns | Grade: B+

In Keenum, the Browns pay somewhat of a premium for a backup quarterback (three years, $18 million, $10 million guaranteed), but they get one of the best clipboard-holders in the league. Keenum proved his worth as a backup when he took over for the Vikings in 2017, posting a 98.3 passer rating as he led Minnesota to the NFC Championship Game. This past season with the Redskins, Keenum posted a 91.3 passer rating, slightly above the league average of 90.4. Baker Mayfield's status as Cleveland's starter isn't threatened by this move. The Browns are simply adding security at the game's most important position. We have seen countless times over the past few years (2017 Eagles, 2019 Titans) how crucial the backup quarterback is. Smart move by Cleveland.

G Ereck Flowers to Dolphins | Grade: B +

Many gave up on Flowers  when his career started off tumultuously with the Giants. However, Flowers was able to revive his career after moving to left guard for the Redskins in 2019. He posted an overall Pro Football Focus grade of 64.2 that landed him at the 62nd percentile among guards. Only 25 and with a solid track record of durability (93.8% of possible games played), Flowers was a worthy buy at three years, $30 million ($20 million guaranteed) for the offensive line-needy Dolphins.

DE Shaq Lawson to Dolphins | Grade: B

Lawson, who will sign a three-year, $30 million deal, is quietly a great pickup. The Dolphins needed pass-rush help, and the Clemson product has proven to be a consistently solid rusher. In 2019 with the Bills, Lawson collected 38 pressures over 262 pass-rush snaps, ranking 20th out of 123 qualified edge defenders in pass-rush productivity. With an expanded role for head coach Brian Flores, he could be exactly what the Fins were missing. 

QB Cousins' extension with Vikings | Grade: B+

The Vikings' roster is as geared to win in the present as any in the NFL. Minnesota has the seventh-least cap space in 2020 ($15.2 million). In 2021, they are currently committed to the second-most cap dollars ($168.8 million). No team in the league has committed more money in 2022 than the Vikings ($142.2 million).

Thus, extending Kirk Cousins for two seasons makes sense for the Vikings as they seek to maximize their championship window. Cousins may not be a superstar, but all he has done since earning the Redskins' starting job in 2015 is produce at a high level. 

Cousins' 2019 season was his best yet. He ranked fourth in passer rating (107.4) and seventh in yards per attempt (8.1). Minnesota facilitated Cousins' career year by putting their running game at the forefront. An improved offensive line and a healthy Dalvin Cook led the Vikings to sixth in rushing yards per game (133.3). 

Behind the stability afforded by that unit, Cousins tossed just 29.6 passes per game, by far his fewest as a starter. He took full advantage of the lighter workload with sublime efficiency numbers. Since adding Cousins in 2018, the Vikings have a regular-season point differential of +123, seventh best in the NFL and fourth best in the NFC. 

Minnesota is good enough to win a championship, and Cousins is more than capable of leading them there. Consistently effective quarterbacks are rare commodities. When you find one, you keep him, especially when your team is built to win in the short term.  

Michael Nania writes about the NFL, focusing mainly on statistical analysis. His work can also be found at Gang Green Nation and Elite Sports New York. On Twitter, Michael can be found @Michael_Nania.

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