Why the Carolina Panthers should trade for DeAndre Hopkins

2T1595B Tennessee Titans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (10) looks to the sidelines during an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts, Sunday, Oct. 8, 2023, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Zach Bolinger)

The Carolina Panthers were aggressive in the offseason, trading up to No. 1 overall in the 2023 NFL Draft to select their quarterback of the future, Bryce Young.

The team is reportedly all in on Young the quarterback and the person, but his performance thus far in his rookie season has highlighted the problems associated with being that aggressive to acquire him in the first place.

To get from No. 9 to No. 1 in the draft, the Panthers coughed up a huge amount of value, which included their best receiver, D.J. Moore.

Now the best receiver Young has to throw to is a latter-stage Adam Thielen, and the team wants to change that.

Easier said than done.

No. 1 receivers don’t grow on trees, and the obvious trade candidates are either unlikely to be moved or are unlikely to qualify as No. 1 receivers.

Read more: 10 trades NFL teams should make ahead of the 2023 trade deadline

One move I argued Carolina should have made in the offseason, and still makes sense, is trading for DeAndre Hopkins.

Panthers fans railed against this idea in the offseason, but the first seven weeks of the season have explained why it makes sense. No, Hopkins doesn’t make sense to pair with Young as a receiver-quarterback connection that can grow together and dominate the league for a decade. Sometimes, you just need viability while your signal-caller develops.

Andy Dalton showed how far away Young is from that when he came in and everything in the Panthers' offense worked better. Dalton has 15 years of veteran experience to draw upon to counter the disadvantages he’s dealing with in terms of supporting cast. Young doesn’t.

Hopkins would bring value to Young even as a short-term rental or a bridge option. — just somebody to throw to he can have confidence in.

Even if this was definitively a worse move for the Panthers now than it would have been in the offseason — when they didn’t have to give up any trade collateral — that isn't a reason to prevent them from going for it. The original opportunity is gone, but there is no sense in passing up the deal the second time around when it would still benefit the team.

There is a positive to doing it this way as well, though. While Carolina would now need to offer a draft pick to Tennessee to get Hopkins, they don’t have to pay him the full contract value that they would have had they signed him as a free agent.

The Titans have already paid Hopkins a near-$10 million signing bonus, and he is essentially playing this season for the veteran minimum in salary. One reason teams balked at the prospect of signing Hopkins in the offseason was the cost, and the Titans solved that problem for any team interested in trading for him now.

The question for those teams becomes: Is Hopkins, playing for the veteran minimum in salary cost, worth more than the draft pick needed to give up to acquire him?

For Carolina especially, the answer is yes.

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The worst thing that could happen to Bryce Young this season is developing bad habits or being set back in his development because the situation around him isn't conducive to functioning at the NFL level.

Hopkins would be a protection for the investment the Panthers have already made, an investment in the most important position and player on the roster.

Hopkins is averaging 2.22 yards per route run for the Titans this season, almost 0.2 more than anybody on the Panthers. He can still win anywhere on the field, with the possible exception of consistently downfield, and the Panthers don’t need him to be anything more than a short-term fix.

From Tennessee’s perspective, the team is 2-4 and the Kevin Byard trade suggests they are already open for business after a rough start to the season. With Ryan Tannehill looking firmly on the downslope of his career, they may be ready to push the reset button on the roster.

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