Can DeAndre Hopkins be AFC kingmaker for Chiefs or Bills?

The Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills are not losing a part of themselves. You can pick nits and point out problems at linebacker for Buffalo and defensive end for Kansas City. But overall, the Chiefs and Bills are a complete team that should be competing for the Super Bowl.

But the problem lies there. Their grills are very similar in quality. At this point, the lead appears to be going to Kansas City, as quarterback Patrick Mahomes has gone unbeatable in the playoffs. (Mahomes is 2-0 against Josh Allen in the postseason.) But as Allen matures, he will become more dangerous in the postseason.

So for any of these teams, DeAndre Hopkins could be the kind of acquisition that puts them over the top. Hopkins, who was officially released by the Cardinals on Tuesday, is a free agent without interest. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Chiefs have Hopkins as their leader, while the Bills, Patriots and Browns will be in the mix.

But it doesn’t seem like these teams are in a rush to strike a deal. The Bills in particular will be in trouble in 2024. On the other hand, the Chiefs have plenty of cap room starting next year, which they could use to sign Hopkins to a two-year deal. Buffalo will have to do an enormous series of salary cap gymnastics, which GM Brandon Beane has insisted he hopes to avoid.

Still, the Bills would certainly sign Hopkins for the right price. If they add him, it might not happen when the Patriots acquired Randy Moss. But Hopkins’ presence could bring out even more unique qualities in Stefon Diggs, who lacks a reliable No. 1. 2 option since coming to Buffalo a few years back. The Hopkins-Diggs combination could be special. And of course, if tight end Dalton Kincaid holds up in his rookie year — with WR Gabe Davis down the field and RB James Cook contributing in a number of ways — this 2023 bill will be followed by a series of special-looking attacks. The crime of 2022 could take a very different shape.

Bills or Chiefs: Who needs DeAndre Hopkins more?

The problem for the Bills is that the Chiefs mean too much to Hopkins, who turns 31 on June 6 and is approaching the final years of his career. This could be one of the last major contracts for him, if not the last. So he’s probably going to squeeze money out of whatever organization wants him.

The Chiefs would have more money to offer, not to mention the opportunity to play with the best quarterback in the NFL. So Kansas City will probably beat the Bills. Perhaps. The Chiefs offense has lost receivers Tyreek Hill, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman over the past two seasons. Hopkins will be the only certainty on offense with high-upside, high-risk foursomes like Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Kadarius Toney, Justin Ross and Skye Moore. Hopkins would throw a spectacular 1-2 punch with Travis Kelce as the other speedster pass catchers pounded the field.

There’s an outside chance that a team like the Patriots, who have more than $12 million in cap space this year and $120 million in pocket money next year, could tempt Hopkins with a dollar bill. Because while he may care about competing for the Super Bowl, money may be more important at this stage of his career and life.

The Patriots haven’t put up a fight since Tom Brady left, but maybe with Hopkins joined by new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, they can avoid sinking to the bottom of the AFC East, which already Looks like the most competitive division in football. But Bill Belichick is notoriously stingy. Just because he has the money doesn’t mean he’ll give it to an aging receiver who is no longer considered one of the top players at his position.

As for Brown, I don’t see it. His biggest selling point will be QB Deshaun Watson, who played with Hopkins in Houston and is friends with him. But it is hard to know whether Watson was actually able to persuade Hopkins to come to Cleveland.

So perhaps a darkhorse candidate will emerge – perhaps the Ravens, who could pair Hopkins with Odell Beckham Jr. But for now, Mukhiya and Bill seem to be the strongest contenders. And maybe the Bills will stretch themselves financially so that Mahomes has no other weapon — and a huge advantage.

Beane seems to have been patient all season long, waiting for a big move. Hopkins introduces himself. Perhaps the Bills can pull the trigger to make sure they still have a gun in what feels like a late January game against the Chiefs in Kansas City.

Prior to joining Fox Sports as an AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA Today Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. follow him on twitter @McCain Analysis,

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