Back in 2017, the last time DeAndre Hopkins played against the Cardinals, then-Cardinals defensive back coach Kevin Ross went up to the wide receiver before kickoff and said "you're the best in the league."
Hopkins, without hesitation, was blunt in his response: "I know."
Three years later, with Hopkins now playing for the Cardinals following a trade from the Houston Texans, Hopkins doesn't see it any differently.
"I always feel like that," Hopkins said with a chuckle, during a conference call Friday following the official completion of the trade made a month ago. "That's the chip, and the way I play the game. I would never tell myself I am second-best. I feel I have the stats to back that up. That's my mindset, and it always will be my mindset."
Hopkins, going into his seventh season, had 104 catches for 1,165 yards and seven touchdowns in 2019 and as a three-time reigning All-Pro, certainly has the resumé to make that claim. As the centerpiece of the deal that sent running back David Johnson, a 2020 second-round pick and 2021 fourth-round pick to the Texans for Hopkins and a 2020 fourth-round pick, the Cardinals are counting on that type of production.
"I feel like DeAndre is a game-changer," general manager Steve Keim said. "He's a guy who can play on the perimeter, he's physical, he's got a great catching radius and strong hands. He's good after the catch and he's a tenacious competitor. To be able to add a player like that to our locker room gets me really excited."
Hopkins had heard rumblings the Texans could deal him last year. So he said he was not surprised to be traded now. In Los Angeles training with Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones in March, when such rumors surfaced again he reached out to his own trusted sources to find out that, yes, it could happen.
Coming to a team with Kliff Kingsbury calling plays and Kyler Murray at quarterback intrigued Hopkins. He sees himself as a good fit in a wide receivers room alongside guys like Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk. Already, he said, he's had discussions with players about how to progress this offseason even if it has to be virtually – "Communication is going to be key," but he said he's made an effort to watch video from last year's team to get a sense of what the Cardinals like to do.
"I think I've watched Kyler highlights more than I've ever watched my own highlights," Hopkins said.
He's been embraced by his teammates, even if it's just been through text and phone, and already made a mark in his new city when he donated $150,000 to the Arizona Coronavirus Relief Fund soon after the trade came to light.
"That's always been a mission of mine and my family, to give back," Hopkins said. "Mr. (Michael) Bidwill has been a great leader for the state and for the area, from what I've been told, and I thought it'd be cool for me to morally and financially support that state. I asked Mr. Bidwill how I can help out. He suggested some things and we went from there."
Former college teammates like Jaron Brown and Andre Ellington praised the organization when talking to Hopkins, and he already has a long relationship with Fitzgerald as two of the best receivers in the game.
Hopkins noted he reached out to Fitzgerald when he planned on holding out in 2016 before receiving his most recent contract extension. Fitzgerald counseled against it – "Your play is going to speak for itself," Fitz told him – and Hopkins ended a one-day training camp holdout. He eventually got his contract following the season.
"Fitz always had the utmost respect from myself," Hopkins said.
That could play a factor when it comes to the contract upgrade Hopkins is seeking. Keim said the two sides have talked. Hopkins, who has three years left on his current deal and is scheduled to make $12.5 million this season, said those conversations are between his agent and the team.
Asked if he planned to take part in the voluntary offseason work, virtual or otherwise, Hopkins said "I play football for a living, and I'm going to do everything I can to catch up with the team when that day comes, when I can ."
It's not like Hopkins isn't already focused on a path to being or remaining the best. The mindset doesn't change.
"(I want) to master the offense first and foremost, which is going to help everyone," Hopkins said. "Be at the level I've been at the last three, four, five years. I hold myself to a higher standard. With the team, my expectation is the expectation I hope everyone has that plays football, to win a championship."