The Cardinals cut DeAndre Hopkins recently, stripping their offense of arguably its best player for nothing but salary cap relief in return. It was the clearest sign yet that Arizona is viewing the 2023 season as a rebuild. And coach Jonathan Gannon's comments Thursday, suggesting Hopkins' departure is "really no big deal to me," reiterate that.
"We just felt it was the best thing for the team to play with who we have," Gannon said, per ProFootballTalk. "I mean, it's really no big deal to me. We were operating under the premise that he was going to be here. And now we're not. So we're moving on."
It's a stock answer from a coach who knew all along, behind closed doors, that Hopkins was unlikely to see the field for the Cardinals in 2023. No matter how much he preaches about competing this year, the reality is Gannon wields a roster in transition, complete with an iffy quarterback spot headlined by a rehabilitating Kyler Murray. And Hopkins, due a lofty salary as part of a previous contract extension, had long been seen as a logical trade or cut candidate.
But now what? How, exactly, are the Cardinals "moving on?" And which players are set to benefit from Hopkins' exit?
The biggest takeaway from D-Hop's absence is that Marquise Brown figures to become an even bigger factor out wide. Acquired in a draft-day swap a year ago, the ex-Ravens speedster got off to a hot start in 2022, logging 485 yards in his first six games before an injury sidelined him more than a month. Now, entering a contract year under the fifth-year option, Brown has a chance to earn a lucrative 2024 payday, either with the Cardinals or elsewhere, by proving he can stay on the field and elevate a young WR room.
Veteran tight end Zach Ertz is perhaps an even safer bet to see an uptick in action post-Hopkins. That is, of course, if Ertz himself doesn't find himself elsewhere ahead of the 2023 season; though he's spoken highly of the new regime and just signed a three-year extension last offseason, he could provide minimal savings if released and has reason to request just that, if he'd like to return to a contender going on 33. Still, if he's on the field, Ertz is a proven safety valve -- a QB's best friend over the middle.
Speedy WR Rondale Moore is also in line for a bigger role, but the former second-rounder has managed just 15 starts in two injury-riddled seasons. So if you're looking for another candidate to step up this year, don't discount Moore's fellow smaller-statured wideout, Greg Dortch. The former undrafted prospect, entering his third season with the team, quietly produced as an efficient high-volume target in 2022, totaling 450+ yards while logging an 82.1% catch rate despite making just four starts.
Additionally, it's possible, if not probable, Arizona will simply lean further into its rushing attack. With Murray likely to be sidelined to start the year, Colt McCoy or another backup is on track to start under center, so Gannon may well prioritize keeping the ball on the ground. That starts and ends with James Conner, who's struggled with his own injury issues but has otherwise been a reliable red-zone option. Behind him, the pickings are relatively slim, with Arizona's backfield rounded out by 2022 sixth-rounder Keaontay Ingram, journeyman Corey Clement and Ravens castoff Ty'Son Williams.