NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Titans have a major need for help at wide receiver, and they will be the first NFL team to bring three-time All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins in for a free agent visit.
They certainly could use his experience in a very young wide receiving group. Hopkins, who turned 31 Tuesday, would have led Tennessee last season with his 64 catches for 717 yards last season despite being limited to nine games by a six-game suspension. He also missed the final two games.
Both coach Mike Vrabel and his new offensive coordinator Tim Kelly worked in Houston during Hopkins’ tenure with the Texans. Vrabel made clear Wednesday he won’t be trying to recruit Hopkins, something he’s left behind when he moved from Ohio State to the NFL.
The NFL Network reported Hopkins would be arriving Sunday. Vrabel would only say Hopkins will come to Nashville in the next few days and the Titans will go through the same visit they use with all free agents.
“I would really just want people that want to be here,” Vrabel said. “And then if that works out, then you go on to the next step. So that will be pretty much it until we either sign or don’t sign the next player.”
Arizona released the five-time Pro Bowl receiver in a salary cap move May 26 after failing to find a trading partner in the offseason.
The Cardinals cut Hopkins three seasons after acquiring him in a blockbuster trade in 2020 with Houston and had signed him to a $54.5 million contract extension through 2024. Hopkins would have counted close to $31 million against the cap this season for Arizona, which still took on a dead cap hit of $22.6 million.
Hopkins ranks 36th in NFL history with 11,298 yards receiving in his 10 seasons over 145 games. He’s a popular free agent with his former Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson making a pitch for the receiver to join him in Cleveland. Watson also spoke to Hopkins on Tuesday and wished him a Happy Birthday.
“Nothing about football, just about life and just how he can just enjoy his day and more blessings to him,” Watson said.
Right now, the Titans’ wide receiving group is led by Treylon Burks, the 18th pick overall in the 2022 draft. He was the player taken with the selection acquired when Tennessee traded A.J. Brown to Philadelphia. The general manager that made that move was fired Dec. 6.
Tennessee cut veteran Robert Woods after he led the team in both receptions and yards receiving. The Titans have approximately $8.3 million in cap space, according to Spotrac.com. Quarterback Will Levis, their second-round pick, is the only rookie from their draft class currently not signed.
New general manager Ran Carthon used one draft pick in April on a receiver, taking Colton Dowell in the seventh round. He also signed veteran Chris Moore, whose 548 yards receiving would have led them last season.
The Titans’ returning receivers combined for 69 catches for 962 yards and four touchdowns.
Ryan Tannehill, in the final year of his contract, said last week that Burks “obviously” has stood out this offseason. Burks spent the offseason in Nashville to both train and learn the new offense being installed by Kelly. Injuries limited Burks to 11 games, and he had 33 catches for 444 yards and a touchdown.
Burks said he’s having fun and feels much more comfortable being here all offseason after coming in as a rookie who struggled in the Tennessee humidity because of asthma. He called Hopkins one of his favorite players.
“He would be a great mentor,” Burks said. “I’ve watched D-Hop since I was younger, one of my favorite players and you know, he just carries himself the right way. And then his game on the field just speaks for itself.”
That’s the challenge for the Titans when they visit with Hopkins.
The previous time they added a 31-year-old wide receiver with 10 years of NFL experience didn’t work out so well. They traded for Julio Jones in June 2021 and cut him after one season. A hamstring issue limited him to 10 games and the worst season of his career with 31 catches for 434 yards and one touchdown.
If Hopkins and the Titans reach an agreement, he wouldn’t even be the first former Texans wide receiver to sign with this franchise. Tennessee signed Andre Johnson in July 2016, and the seven-time Pro Bowl receiver had nine catches for 85 yards and two touchdowns in eight games before retiring.
Randy Moss also spent eight games with Tennessee in 2010 after being claimed off waivers from Minnesota. The Pro Football Hall of Fame receiver caught six passes for 80 yards for a team that finished 6-10 in Jeff Fisher’s last season after a 5-2 start.
Vrabel fired offensive coordinator Todd Downing after only four NFL teams scored fewer points per game than Tennessee’s 17.5 in 2022. The Titans also ranked 30th in both total yards (296.8) and passing yards (171.4) per game. That was despite Derrick Henry ranking second in the NFL with 1,538 yards rushing.
Kelly’s first season as Houston’s offensive coordinator was 2019, Hopkins’ last with the Texans. The wide receiver caught 104 passes for 1,165 yards for the AFC South champions that season.
AP Sports Writer Tom Withers contributed from Cleveland, Ohio.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL