Should DeAndre Hopkins Go After Top Money or Chase Ring?

Take the money or chase the ring?

That is the question for free agent wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins after the Arizona Cardinals decided to take a $22.6 million dead cap hit in 2023 by releasing the talented veteran pass catcher.

Several teams — the Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, Houston Texans and Cleveland Browns — reportedly have interest in Hopkins as the 30-year-old considers his options.

On the one hand, the Chiefs — and to a lesser extent the Bills — would seem to give Hopkins the best chance to get to the Super Bowl and win it. On the other hand, only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ($401K) have less cap space than the Chiefs ($1.21 million) and Bills ($1.51 million) at this point of the offseason.

Meanwhile, the Texans ($18.72 million) and Browns ($13.86 million) have more money to spend but longer odds to win a championship.

Nothing Is Guaranteed

I’ve often felt a disconnect between fans and players when it comes to these situations.

“He should go for the ring; he doesn’t need the money.”   

I hear comments like this all the time from friends and family when topics like this come up. Heck, I probably said those things growing up as a huge fan of the sport.

The truth is that is much easier said than done.

Let’s forget Hopkins for a second and pretend I was still playing and in a similar situation. Sure, I would absolutely love to experience a Super Bowl and get a ring.  That would be valuable to me. The question, of course, is just how valuable?

The problem is that there are no guarantees. Look at the playoffs every year and the number of games that could go one way or the other based on any number of plays in each contest. Is Hopkins really going to help the Bills get over the top when they’ve only even made the AFC Championship Game once with Josh Allen as their quarterback?

Even the Chiefs, who have the best odds, are far from a sure thing. The chances of them winning it back-to-back aren’t great. It’s been 20 years since the last time a team pulled that off (the 2003 and 2004 New England Patriots).

That’s why even as a guy who made the minimum salary five of my seven years in the league, I would go to a team like the Texans for $250K more than the Bills or the Chiefs. Maybe even $100K if I am being honest. It’d be a different conversation if I knew which team would win the Super Bowl. But given those unknowns, I am taking the certainty of the extra money I could put towards my retirement and my kids’ college fund. 

Money Equals Respect

“But Hopkins has already made so much money.”

In my experience, players look at money as respect. They see money as how much a team values and wants them. And yeah, they look at the pure financial security aspect of it.

The funny thing is I never really hear my buddies in other professions “take less” to work for the No. 1 ranked company in their sector instead of making more from the fourth or fifth best business in their industry.  

Almost everybody thinks they would take less to try to win a ring, but when you are actually in that situation, you are much more pragmatic about it. That’s why I guess he ends up in Cleveland with the Browns.

For one, it’s funny how the more money a team offers a player, the more they can see a path to that team having a chance to win it all. Frankly, with the Browns, it is not that far-fetched.

They still have the core of a team that won a road playoff game a couple of years ago, including most of the rock-solid offensive line.

They also should get their first full season of Deshaun Watson who, by all accounts, was a top-five quarterback in the NFL his last full season with the Texans in 2020. He sat out 2021 and was suspended for the first 11 games of the 2022 season. Hopkins is familiar with what Watson is capable of from their three seasons together in Houston.

Protecting Your Investment

But that’s not the biggest reason the Browns will land Hopkins. The primary factor driving my belief is the main motivator for most decisions in the NFL: personal interest and job security.

Browns general manager Andrew Berry and coach Kevin Stefanski are coming off back-to-back losing seasons. The organization made a gigantic investment in terms of both draft picks and money to bring Watson to Cleveland. Simply put, they need to make it work this year.

Enter Hopkins. 

He’ll get more money than he would in Kansas City or Buffalo, and the Browns are not a rebuilding team like the Texans. They have a chance if things go their way.  

Perhaps most importantly, they are desperate. Desperate for DeAndre.

Ross Tucker is a former NFL offensive lineman who played seven seasons for the Cowboys, Bills, Patriots and Washington after graduating from Princeton University in 2001. He works as a color commentator for both CBS Sports and Westwood One in addition to hosting a number of podcasts, including the popular Ross Tucker Football Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @RossTuckerNFL.

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