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Major moves made as NFL free agency looms

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Things just got hotter on offense in the desert.

The first day that players’ representatives could talk with teams wound up being more about trades than free agents — with one of the NFL’s biggest stars, DeAndre Hopkins, headed to Arizona.

In a stunner that overshadowed several other trades and a slew of offers to unrestricted free agents, the Texans sent their three-time All-Pro receiver to the Cardinals for running back David Johnson, a second-round draft pick this year and a fourth-rounder in 2021.

Several Cardinals players not surprisingly reacted positively to the move on social media. Quarterback Kyler Murray, the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, responded with a “LET’S GET RIGHT! @DeAndreHopkins” while wideout Christian Kirk added “10 + 11 + 13 = SCARY SIGHT. Welcome to the squad bro let’s eat!”

In addition, the Buffalo Bills are set to acquire wide receiver Stefon Diggs in a trade with the Minnesota Vikings, a person with direct knowledge of the move confirmed to the Associated Press on Monday night.

The Bills agreed to give up four draft picks, including their first-round selection this year (22nd overall), to land a fifth-year player who has topped 1,000 yards receiving in each of the past two seasons, the person said. The deal was first reported by FoxSports.com. “

The NFL’s business year is just getting started, as planned, despite the spread of the new coronavirus. For now, all moves are being done remotely with basically a ban on travel within the league.

Also traded was Baltimore tight end Hayden Hurst to Atlanta, which is losing TE Austin Hooper to Cleveland in free agency. The Ravens received second- and fifth-round picks in this year’s draft, and the Falcons got a fourth-rounder.

Fourteen franchise tags were handed out, the most since 2012, with only one quarterback, the Cowboys’ Dak Prescott, being tagged. The other biggest names among those franchised were Titans running back Derrick Henry; Bengals receiver A.J. Green; Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones; and Buccaneers linebacker Shaq Barrett, the league leader in sacks in 2019.

The move by Tampa Bay with Barrett almost assures that quarterback Jameis Winston is headed elsewhere.

Franchise tag values range from $26.824 million for a quarterback, to $17.865 million for a running back to $17.788 million for a defensive end/edge rusher; to $5.019 million for kickers.

Running back Kenyan Drake got a transition tag from Arizona, but with Johnson traded to Houston, he has an open path to the starting job.

In case you’re wondering, no word out of the Tom Brady camp on a potential landing spot for the six-time Super Bowl champion should he leave New England.

In other pending deals or moves:

Free-agent tackle Jack Conklin has agreed to a three-year, $42 million contract with the Browns. A 2016 All-Pro as a rookie, he will get $30 million guaranteed and earn $20 million in his first year.

Defensive end Shaq Lawson agreed to a $30 million, three-year contract with Miami. The contract could be worth up to $36 million, and $21 million will be guaranteed. Lawson spent his first four NFL seasons with the Bills and last year had a career-high 6½ sacks, which would have led the Dolphins.

Minnesota reached an agreement with punter Britton Colquitt on a three-year, $9 million contract in which he will get $5 million in guaranteed money.

Washington agreed to re-sign inside linebacker Jon Bostic to a $6.6 million, two-year deal. He was tied for second on the team with 105 tackles in 2019.

Two veterans retired: Ben Watson and Ramon Foster.

Watson, a 39-year-old Patriots tight end, is concluding a 15-year NFL career that included two stints in New England, as well as stops in Cleveland, New Orleans and Baltimore. Watson retires with 547 catches for 6,058 yards and 44 touchdowns. And a Super Bowl ring.

Foster, 34, is an 11-year veteran who made the Steelers as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Tennessee in 2009. He became a steadying force on a unit that evolved into one of the league’s best.

NFL cancels public events around draft

The NFL will proceed with its draft but without public events next month in Las Vegas. It’s not yet clear, however, if the draft itself will be held in the city.

Commissioner Roger Goodell said Monday the draft will take place April 23-25 as scheduled, but under a modified format still being developed. The draft will be televised regardless of its venue or format.

“In consideration of current information related to COVID-19 and guidance from medical experts such as the CDC, and in coordination with public authorities in Nevada and the city of Las Vegas, the NFL will modify its plans,” the league said in a statement.

The NFL said it is exploring “innovative options” for how the process will be handled.”

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