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Culture / Newsy

DeAndre Hopkins Gets Absolutely Robbed by the NFL, But Bob McNair’s New Contract Work Will Make Things Right

BY // 09.19.16

DeAndre Hopkins sits at his locker. Or more accurately, he sits at his and Jaelen Strong’s locker, stretching his 6-foot-1 frame across the full width of the two cubicles, his feet up on a folding chair in his fellow receiver’s space. The best receiver in the NFL not named Antonio Brown (and we’ll have to let Hopkins play with Ben Roethlisberger before even that one’s declared a certain TKO) looks utterly relaxed.

And why not?

Roger Goodell cannot fine Hopkins for the cool white kicks he’s sporting now (unlike the Kanye West Yeezy cleats he wore during the game last week that forced him to write a $6,000 check to the league). The Texans are 2-0 despite the fact that their new $72 million quarterback, Brock Osweiler, has been outplayed by Ryan Fitzpatrick (it’s 96.5 to 79.9 in QBR for Fitz) so far, a trend that surely will not last. And the fastest rookie in the NFL (the Texans’ 4.32-second 40-yard-dash running Will Fuller) is already starting to open up the field more for Hopkins.

As Hopkins scrolls through his iPhone, seemingly as chill as could be barely 40 minutes removed from an intense slog of a 19-12 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, it’s fair to wonder if he’s looking for mentions of an act of robbery perpetuated against him.

Hopkins had a touchdown catch stolen away from him. To a wide receiver — not to mention the legion of fantasy football players using him — that’s a felony much worse than even swiping a man’s Kanye-gifted shoes.

When Hopkins came down with a difficult (though not even close to the type of superhuman catch he specializes in) over-the-shoulder grab in the end zone Sunday, he appeared to drag his legs inbounds. The referees said he was out of bounds, and a challenge flag from Texans coach Bill O’Brien did nothing to change that. No touchdown for you!

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“We should put up a a survey and ask the world: Was that a touchdown?” Hopkins says.

Let’s just say the world would be on the side of the man whose hands are so large that he needs to wear 3XL gloves. When a robbed touchdown isn’t even the most egregious catch ruling in the game, you know the NFL has a problem on its hands that threatening to fine another player won’t fix.

“I don’t know anything about the catch rule,” O’Brien says. “I really don’t. I might get fined for this, I don’t know. But somebody’s going to have to really sit down with me and explain to me the catch rule. Because basically to me a catch would be like when I was 10 years old in the backyard and we were playing football with our buddies and we all knew like ‘OK, he caught that ball.’ I’m going to stop right there.

“I mean, I don’t know the catch rule. I’m sorry.”

What the Texans do know is how to find outliers who can catch footballs like few others. Grabbing Hopkins with the 27th pick of the 2013 NFL Draft refutes the notion that Texans general manager Rick Smith isn’t good at the draft (NFL.com recently declared that, in hindsight, Hopkins should have been the No. 1 overall pick in that draft). Trading up in the draft to grab Fuller at No. 21 last April may not prove to be quite that brilliant (there is only one Hopkins), but it’s already paying dividends.

On  a day when Andre Johnson — the receiver O’Brien decided he no longer had any use for — caught a tough, fourth-down touchdown pass to stun the Lions in the final minute in Detroit, the Texans’ new crew still looked even better. The 24-year-old Hopkins caught seven passes for 113 yards and one touchdown that counted, while the 22-year-old Fuller nabbed four balls for 104 yards, including the most acrobatic near drop you’ll ever see on a deep ball.

The Texans don’t just suddenly have one of the best wide receiver duos in the entire league. They have one of the youngest. Now, they just need to make sure they pay Hopkins. O’Brien, a fantastic coach who’s made a few questionable personnel decisions in Houston, cannot adopt any of that New England Patriots’ thinking on receivers being expendable. The Texans don’t have anything close to Tom Brady at quarterback. And Hopkins is anything but an ordinary receiver.

Bill Belichick rain
Bill Belichick may be Bill O’Brien’s mentor, but the Texans coach needs to value receivers differently.

Hopkins training camp holdout may have lasted one day only, but you can be sure that this proud man hasn’t forgotten for a second that he’s making a mere million dollars this season (that’s paltry by NFL standards). Yes, the Texans still hold a fifth-year rookie contract option on Hopkins and could just keep him for $7.9 million next season, but taking care of one of the NFL’s few legitimate game shifters sooner rather than later seems much more prudent.

At least the billionaire who will have to write a big check to Hopkins is saying the right things.

“He’s just so reliable, very valuable,” Texans owner Bob McNair says of Hopkins. “I told him, ‘The last catch you made was the most important of all.’ ”

That last catch came on an onsides kick, squashing the Chiefs’ last desperate attempt at rallying. McNair must realize that defense alone cannot carry his franchise. Right now, the Texans’ offense already almost completely hinges on Hopkins and Fuller’s game-breaking ability.

Houston’s defense  utterly dominated Alex Smith and company, holding the Chiefs to 25 yards in the first quarter. The first four times Kansas City touches the ball, it’s two punts, a lost fumble and a negative two-yard scoring “drive.” There are old ladies in motorized shopping carts at Walmart who are more effective at getting somewhere.

Romeo Crennel‘s unit is so stifling that it sometimes even seems to take Houston’s own crowd out of the game. This game turns into a dominant slog — in no small part due to the Texans’ offense’s own troubles. Those troubles end when the ball finds DeAndre Hopkins’ hands. Now, the Texans just need to put a new contract in those 3XL difference makers.

Hopkins looks happy now, but only money will make this last.

Home, chic home.

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