Zolak & Bertrand

Did the Patriots miscalculate in their pursuit of DeAndre Hopkins?

The Patriots' "culture" isn't the same selling point it used to be.

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DeAndre Hopkins reportedly had a productive free-agent meeting with the Patriots this offseason and left New England "intrigued" by the opportunity to play for Bill Belichick's squad.

Intrigue only got the Patriots so far in the Hopkins sweepstakes, however, as the Pro Bowl wide receiver agreed to a two-year contract with the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, per multiple reports.

Hopkins' new deal reportedly will pay him $12 million in base salary this season with the possibility of reaching $15 million if he earns certain incentives. According to Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer, the Patriots also were willing to pay Hopkins a maximum of $15 million in 2023, but with a lower base salary and more money tied to incentives.

NFL reporter Mike Giardi confirmed Monday that Tennessee's offer to Hopkins was "higher than the Patriots' from the jump" and explained why New England still thought it could sign Hopkins without being the highest bidder.

"I think the Patriots were trying to sell him on culture, a winning history here, the pieces they assembled in the offseason," Giardi said on 98.5 The Sports Hub's "Zolak & Bertrand" radio show, via NBC Sports Boston's simulcast. "They feel like they're better than they were last year, so kind of throw out last year as a disaster (and say), 'We added JuJu (Smith-Schuster) and (Mike) Gesicki and some of the pieces, we have Bill (O'Brien) here, and we've done well with Bill. We'll be able to give you what you want in terms of production, and then you can go back out after a year of 90, 95, 100 catches and say, 'Hey, I'm still that guy.'"

There's some logic to that thinking, especially since the Titans' offensive outlook is even more bleak than New England's. Tennessee ranked 30th in the NFL in passing yards last season at just 171.4 per game, and the Titans' wide receiver group produced just two 100-yard receiving games total in 2023.

From a performance standpoint, Hopkins probably had a better chance to succeed in New England with Mac Jones and new offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien -- who was Hopkins' head coach during his most productive seasons with the Houston Texans -- than in Tennessee with 34-year-old quarterback Ryan Tannehill and unproven backups Malik Willis and Will Levis.

Based on reporting from Breer and Giardi, however, it sounds like Hopkins' main goal was maximizing his value in free agency after seeing Odell Beckham Jr. sign with the Baltimore Ravens for $15 million earlier this offseason.

"The bottom line for (Hopkins) was, because of when he was released, you're not going to get the OBJ contract, but he wanted to get as close to OBJ as possible," Giardi added. "OBJ got $15 million guaranteed; this looks like $12 million and then incentives, so he got as close as he could. From talking to other teams around the league, I think that second year is going to be a dummy year."

If this was five or 10 years ago, the Patriots perhaps could have convinced Hopkins he'd have a good chance to put up big numbers while playing for a perennial Super Bowl contender led by a coaching legend in Belichick. New England hasn't won a postseason game since Tom Brady's departure in 2020, however, and Hopkins' decision was proof that the team's "culture" isn't the draw it used to be -- especially for a player like Hopkins who prioritized his financial returns.

So, either the Patriots overestimated their ability to sell Hopkins on New England, or they're comfortable enough with their current wide receiver group that they didn't feel the need to match Tennessee's offer.

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