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DeAndre Hopkins Willingly Agrees To Catch The Rare Titans Pass

DeAndre Hopkins holds his helmet during a game between the Patriots and Cardinals.
Cooper Neill/Getty Images

If you believe in label shopping as the pre-eminent form of roster construction, then the Tennessee Titans are for you. In the competitively bankrupt world of the AFC South, the one-dimensional team has been king, and the Titans were built around and driven by the lifted pickup truck that is Derrick Henry for the last five seasons. They've won more than they've lost, and they even reached the AFC title game as the worst team in the playoffs in the 2019 season, but they were never truly feared no matter how much fistfaced coach Mike Vrabel tried to will that attribute into existence. They were a team without an alternative to Henry and therefore a team to be barely noted, especially last season when they squandered a 7-3 start to lose every remaining game on their schedule.

As first reported on Sunday by Doug Kyed of AtoZSports, the Titans are trying to add at least the illusion of a second dimension with 31-year-old wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, a superior talent with the presence of mind to understand that anything and anyone is better than Arizona. According to Ian Rapoport's Notes app, Hopkins will get a two-year deal with $12 million in the first season, and up to $3 million more if he achieves some highly unlikely goals like winning the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. He missed the first six games last year while sitting out a PED suspension, and the last two with a knee injury, and still caught more balls and gained more yards than any 2022 Titans receiver. Plus, he was eminently available since being released in May by the Cardinals' new regime, which couldn't find a trade partner for him or a reason to pay him the last year of his contract while they were planning their 2023 tankavaganza.

This does not make the Titans the favorite to unseat Kansas City, but on pixels it does let them compete with Jacksonville within the division. And they can hang a banner for being a more appealing landing spot than the New England Patriots, who met with Hopkins in June but couldn't (or wouldn't) close the deal. Hopkins decided that Ryan Tannehill and maybe a bit of Will Levis felt like a better path to success than Mac Jones, or maybe he wasn't yet ready to reunite with Bill O'Brien, the Pats offensive coordinator and former Texans coach/general manager/nuclear physicist who traded Hopkins to the Cardinals for couch cushions. Or maybe Bill Belichick tried to tell a joke and scared Hopkins all the way to the airport.

Teams that need one piece to put themselves over a desired hillock (and the AFC South is more like a waterslide in Utah) are usually teams that are a few pieces away and just don't know it yet. That would explain the current-day Titans. But with Vrabel entering his sixth season in a job that has only had one coach in its history (Jeff "Eight'n'eight" Fisher) last longer, Hopkins had better be the rare one-piece fix, especially with the clock still ticking on Henry and his own expiring contract.

This is a what-the-hell signing for a team that traded away A.J. Brown and hasn't had a receiver reach 1,200 yards in a season since Drew Bennett in 2004. The hope is that Hopkins's time in Tennessee goes better than it did for previous big-name-past-game receivers like Julio Jones or Randy Moss. Hopkins is a signing you undertake when your best in-house option is Treylon Burks, whose 33 catches in his rookie season you do not remember because his only touchdown came in a 35-10 loss to the Eagles in Week 13, the second of seven consecutive beatings that made Hopkins desperately necessary. He is the best Tennessee can do, in a division where the best you can do can get you anywhere from three to nine wins and the derision of a nation addicted to nearly every other team in any other sport.

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