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NFL AM: DeAndre Hopkins Skips Start of Texans Camp

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DeAndre Hopkins has emerged as one of the premier talents at the wide receiver position in the National Football League and he wants to be paid like it.

For now, that desire is going to keep him away from Houston Texans training camp.

Hopkins arrived back in Houston with his teammates this week, but staged a walkout at week’s end and will not be on the field as the Texans begin training camp this weekend. The three-year veteran is in the final base year of his rookie contract, which is set to pay him just $1 million in 2016. Houston also exercised an option on his deal earlier this offseason that will pay Hopkins nearly $8 million in 2017.

But even that is far off from what players of his caliber are making. Cincinnati’s A.J. Green is the league’s highest paid wide receiver in terms of annual value, making $15 million per year. Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas and Julio Jones all make at least $14 million per year, while lesser wideouts like Doug Baldwin and Keenan Allen both inked deals this offseason paying them above $11 million per year.

“I’m not looking for a certain range,” Hopkins told ESPN last week of what he’s seeking in a new or restructured contract. “I just want to be treated for what I’m worth. That’s fair to say, right?”

It’s more than fair for Hopkins to ask. After all, he was among the top three wide receivers in the league last year, hauling in 111 passes for 1,521 yards with 11 touchdowns, despite having the ball thrown his way by a slew of mediocre quarterbacks. The Texans believe they fixed that problem this offseason, when they lured quarterback Brock Osweiler away from the Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos. They also added complementary pieces to Hopkins on the offense with the signing of running back Lamar Miller and the draft selection of wideouts Will Fuller and Braxton Miller.

But in order for Hopkins to develop a rapport with his new teammates, especially his new quarterback, he has to be on the field at training camp and that won’t be the case, at least at the start. For each day he misses, Hopkins can be fined $40,000 by the team.

It’s important for both sides for Hopkins to get back on the field and move forward toward what will be a pivotal season in Houston. With the improvements to their offense and their same stout defense, the Texans are expected to be a contender this season. What they don’t need to detract from that is a distraction. To avoid that, extension talks with Hopkins should ramp up soon. After all, Houston did extend 2011 first round pick J.J. Watt prior to his fourth year, in 2014, and did the same for 2012 first round pick Whitney Mercilus last year. Hopkins was their 2013 first round pick.

What that extension might look like is the bigger question. There’s a sizable gap between where Baldwin and Allen signed, at a shade over $11 million annually, and the likes of Bryant, Thomas and Green. The only receiver currently filling that gap is Colts wideout T.Y. Hilton, who signed a five-year, $65 million contract last August. Perhaps that can provide a guideline for where Hopkins’ deal lands. Or perhaps the Texans can find a way to appease the Pro Bowl wide receiver in the short term before hammering out a long-term contract later.

Either way, Texans GM Rick Smith, who just received a four-year contract extension of his own, has some work to do here to get Hopkins back in uniform and on the field. He’s spoken highly of the fourth year wideout in the weeks leading up to camp, but now it’s time for Smith and Texans management to step up to the plate for their star, or risk fracturing what could be a banner season for the franchise.

“D-Hop is really, really emerging into one of the better wide receivers in the league,” Smith said. “He certainly is one of those guys that we’re going to keep around here for a long time hopefully.”

ANDRE JOHNSON LANDS IN TENNESSEE

While Hopkins holds out looking for a better deal in Houston, the man he replaced as the Texans’ top target, Andre Johnson, is continuing his tour of the AFC South in Tennessee.

Coming off a lone season with the Indianapolis Colts, the long-time Texans wide receiver inked a two-year contract with the Tennessee Titans on Friday that will bring him to his third AFC South squad in as many years.

Johnson was a bit of a disappointment in that lone year in Indy, where despite playing in all 16 games, he hauled in just 41 passes for 503 yards and four touchdowns. Partially to blame was the fact that his targets were cut in half from his final year in Houston, and that comes with the territory for a 34-year-old wide receiver.

Now 35 years of age, Johnson will be trying to improve upon those numbers in Tennessee, while also being leaned upon as something as a mentor for a young quarterback in Marcus Mariota and a crop of young wide receivers. Despite having some talent at the position for the last several years, production has been at a minimum for Titans wideouts.

No Tennessee receiver has eclipsed the 1,000-yard plateau since Kendall Wright did it in 2013. Tight end Delanie Walker was the only pass catcher over the mark last season and he nearly doubled the yardage output of last year’s top receiver Dorial Green-Beckham. In fact, despite his lackluster production in Indy last season, Johnson would have rivaled Green-Beckham for best numbers among Titans wideouts.

That’s a problem the Titans will be looking to fix this season. They’re hoping to get more out of Green-Beckham, a 2015 second round pick, in his second season, and Johnson’s presence might help him grow. They’re also looking for more out of Wright and Justin Hunter, who each missed significant time last season. The team also brought in former Dolphins receiver Rishard Matthews as a free agent and drafted Tajae Sharpe, who they like a lot in the slot.

If nothing else, Johnson gives them a veteran talent with a stacked resume featuring seven Pro Bowls and two All-Pro selections, to help guide that group. He also offers Mariota a second reliable target beyond Walker to get the ball to in bog spots. Johnson won’t put up the gaudy numbers he once did, but those qualities alone are worth it for a Titans team looking to rise back out of the AFC South cellar.


About Devon Jeffreys

Devon Jeffreys