TEMPE, Ariz. -- In less than two hours Monday, the Arizona Cardinals built an offense that will have playoff aspirations.
With free agency set to begin Wednesday, the Cardinals traded embattled running back David Johnson, a second-round pick (2020) and a fourth-round pick (2021) to the Houston Texans in exchange for wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and a fourth-round pick (2020).
Hopkins now pairs with quarterback Kyler Murray, the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year, and future Hall of Fame wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald on a team that is sure to win more than the five games it did last season.
The trade came almost two hours after the Cardinals put the transition tag on running back Kenyan Drake, giving them the right of first refusal on any offer made to Drake and likely keeping him in Arizona for another season.
The Cardinals spent Monday building around Murray. In Hopkins, Arizona acquired one of the best receivers in the game. In Drake, Arizona might be able to solidify its running game for the short term.
Is it enough to take them from last place to contender in a division that includes the past two Super Bowl runners-up in the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers and a perennial playoff team in the Seattle Seahawks?
Going from five wins to the playoffs in 2020 is not as crazy as it seems. Consider this: The Cardinals lost two games by a field goal last season and three others by less than a touchdown. They tied the Lions in Week 1. That's six winnable games, most of which were played in the infancy of first-year coach Kliff Kingsbury's offense when they were learning on the fly in many ways.
Adding Hopkins and having Drake for an entire season could be the difference between winning and losing those close games.
Over the past three seasons, Hopkins led the league in touchdown receptions, was third in receiving yards and is one of four players to be named a first-team All-Pro. He has the second-most catches (632) in his first seven seasons in NFL history. He has at least 1,100 receiving yards in five of the past six seasons. Fitzgerald has done that only once in the past four years.
Arizona now will be able to pair Hopkins with Murray and add him to Fitzgerald and fellow receiver Christian Kirk. That, alone, should bolster Arizona's passing game to heights not seen since the days of Bruce Arians' aerial attack.
Last season, the Cardinals' wide receivers averaged a league-low 8.9 air yards per target, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. And over the past three seasons, Arizona's receivers struggled getting the ball downfield, averaging 11.68 yards per reception over that stretch. Hopkins has the talent to change that on his own.
Kingsbury's offense relies on multi-receiver sets, and adding Hopkins gives Murray another dynamic option.
The Cardinals led the NFL in 2019 with 328 plays with four or more receivers on the field -- more than the next five teams combined. Expect Hopkins to make a smooth transition to Kingsbury's version of Air Raid. He had 27 catches on throws from a quarterback who was outside the pocket in the past two years, third most in the NFL. Last season, Murray threw 88 passes outside the pocket, fourth most in the league. Having Hopkins as a target should increase Murray's average of 5.2 yards per attempt on those throws.
Hopkins' 632 receptions since 2013 ranks third in the NFL, just above Fitzgerald's 614.
Hopkins comes to Arizona with three years left on his contract, making him ideal to replace Fitzgerald as the Cardinals' top receiving option in the future.
For now, though, Hopkins gets to share a locker room with Fitzgerald, who's been a mentor to him for a while.
"He's given me great advice about being a pro's pro, about how to carry yourself on the field and off the field,” Hopkins told ESPN in 2018 about Fitzgerald. "So, the best advice he has given me was just to be a professional all around, not just when the lights are on.
"He's who I look up to as a player, as a person off the field."
Getting Hopkins as well as getting another team to take on Johnson is a major coup for Cardinals general manager Steve Keim. Johnson had just 2,191 yards and 16 touchdowns from scrimmage since 2017 after having 2,118 yards and 20 touchdowns from scrimmage in 2016.
Keim has been criticized in recent years for his botched handling of free agency and the draft, but trading for Hopkins eases that criticism. This move showed Keim has the ability to pull off a trade that is widely considered a steal, a trait that might be his lasting legacy in Arizona. In 2016, he traded offensive lineman Jonathan Cooper, a former first-round pick who flamed out because of injuries, to the New England Patriots for pass-rusher Chandler Jones. In 2013, the Cardinals acquired quarterback Carson Palmer and a seventh-round pick from the Raiders for a sixth-round pick and a conditional seventh-round pick. Last season, Keim traded a conditional fifth-round draft pick to the Miami Dolphins for Drake.
And now this.
Moving Johnson was a feat unto itself because of his lack of recent production and hefty price tag -- he was scheduled to earn $10.2 million in 2020 with a $14.1 million cap hit. But Keim found a team willing to make a deal. It helped his cause that Hopkins has a $14 million cap hit himself, so trading the two was a financial wash, giving Keim and the Cardinals a great deal.