Hopkins visits Pats; in no rush to sign, per source

    Mike Reiss is an NFL reporter at ESPN and covers the New England Patriots. Reiss has covered the Patriots since 1997 and joined ESPN in 2009. In 2019, he was named Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. You can follow Reiss on Twitter at @MikeReiss.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Free-agent wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins visited with the New England Patriots on Thursday and, barring an unexpected turn, both sides are now expected to take some time to assess their next steps, according to a source familiar with the visit.

Hopkins, 31, has not been in a rush to sign with a team, and has considered waiting until closer to training camp in late July to make a move, a source told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.

Likewise, the Patriots officially conclude their offseason program on Friday, with about a one-month hiatus before the start of training camp.

On Instagram, Hopkins posted a picture of himself with Patriots outside linebacker Matthew Judon, from inside New England’s locker room. He included the words “La Familia,” which highlights how he connected with some of the team’s veteran leaders during his visit.

Hopkins’ visit Thursday started early in the morning and went well into the afternoon, a source told Fowler, adding Hopkins appeared intrigued by the possibility of playing for New England and Bill Belichick. Whether that results in a deal now or in future remains unclear.

Hopkins, who also visited with the Tennessee Titans early in the week, has a fan in Patriots quarterback Mac Jones.

“I think DeAndre is a great player. You watch his film from college all the way through the NFL, he’s done a great job. So obviously we’d love to have him, but we do have a great group of guys,” Jones said at the start of the team’s mandatory minicamp this week.

“I’ve been really pleased with the playmakers we have on the team; we’ve come out here and really bought into the system. We have a good group and I feel like we need to keep growing together and whoever is in that room, we’re going to try to dominate together.”

Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who canceled the third and final day of mandatory minicamp on Wednesday for a team-building paintball excursion, has long admired Hopkins. But Belichick repeated multiple times this week that he would only speak publicly about players who are already on the team’s roster.

Thursday’s visit gave Belichick a chance to spend behind-the-scenes time with Hopkins and learn more about what the three-time All-Pro is seeking in his next team after playing for the Houston Texans (2013-2019) and Arizona Cardinals (2020-2022).

Their on-field meeting before the Patriots’ 27-13 win over the Cardinals last December reflected how highly Belichick views Hopkins. In audio captured by NFL Films, Belichick told Hopkins: “I’m glad we only have to play you every four years, man. What a career you’re having.”

In turn, Hopkins said to Belichick: “I love you, man.”

That connection has sparked hope among some New England fans that Hopkins might view the Patriots as his best fit.

The team’s recently concluded minicamp showed why the Patriots could benefit from signing Hopkins. With receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster and Tyquan Thornton working their way back to full health and not practicing, nine-year veteran DeVante Parker and seven-year veteran Kendrick Bourne were the top pass-catchers.

Furthermore, 2023 sixth-round draft picks Kayshon Boutte (No. 187) and Demario Douglas (No. 210) — who are vying for a depth-based role at receiver — were also held out of practice.

When everyone is healthy, Judon, one of the team’s defensive leaders, believes that can be a formidable group.

“I would rather just focus on the receivers that we have here,” Judon said when asked about the possibility of signing Hopkins. “We got some guys willing and eager to learn and get better every day. We have guys that can catch the ball, advance the ball, score from anywhere on the field, and a quarterback that can get them the ball.”

Of Hopkins, Judon added: “Wherever he lands, he lands. If it’s here, it’s here. And then we can talk about him.”

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