Austin Hooper

Falcons’ Freeman, Hooper Suffer Injuries

The Falcons came away with the win on Sunday, but it could prove to be costly. Tight end Austin Hooper and running back Devonta Freeman both suffered injuries in the victory over the rival Saints, according to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport (Twitter links). 

Hooper, the league’s leader at the tight end position with 56 catches, will get an MRI on his knee. Freeman, meanwhile, will be getting a scan on his sprained foot. Hooper is expected to miss some time and Freeman’s situation is being closely monitored.

Hooper is in the midst of a breakout season. Hooper, 25, was forced out of Sunday’s game after hauling in four passes for 17 yards, including one touchdown reception. To date, he has 56 catches for 608 yards and six scores, positioning him as one of the best young TEs in the game today.

It sounds like Hooper will miss Sunday’s game against the Panthers and then some. Given the Falcons’ 2-7 record and Hooper’s importance to the team moving forward, one has to wonder if they might take the cautious approach and keep him off the field for the rest of the season, if there’s a possibility of aggravating the injury.

Freeman, meanwhile, hasn’t been having a banner year, but he remains an important figure in the Falcons’ offense. So far this year, he has averaged just 3.5 yards per carry.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Trade Rumors: Hopkins, Slay, Hooper

The trade deadline is two days away, so there are plenty of rumors to pass along. Of course, many of those rumors center around this year’s non-contenders, but Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports says that two such teams — the Redskins and Bengals — continue to rebuff inquiries concerning veterans who should be available. Rival GMs have grown increasingly frustrated with Washington and Cincinnati, and La Canfora says opposing clubs have become resigned to the fact that they are not going to be able to swing a deal with those obstinate franchises. That means that a number of big names — Trent Williams, Ryan Kerrigan, A.J. Green, and Carlos Dunlap, to name a few — are looking more and more likely to stay put.

Now for more trade rumors from around the league, starting with another nugget out of Cincinnati:

  • Michael Lombardi of The Athletic agrees that the Bengals are likely to stand pat at the deadline for the most part, but he does believe the club will move tight end Tyler Eifert.
  • Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins is decidedly not on the trading block, but teams have still called Houston to ask about the star wideout, as Jay Glazer of FOX Sports tweets. That obviously sounds like clubs doing their due diligence more than anything else, and Glazer acknowledges that it would take an awful lot for the Texans to move Hopkins.
  • The Lions have received calls on CB Darius Slay, as Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. It would take a big offer to pry Slay from Detroit, but in the wake of Slay’s comments earlier this week, maybe the Lions will be more inclined to move him.
  • RB-needy teams have called the Seahawks to inquire on Rashaad Penny, as Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network reports (video link). Penny is not on the block, per se, but the 2018 first-rounder is drawing interest. In the same video, Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network says Chargers RB Melvin Gordon could also be on the move.
  • Schefter reports that the 49ers have received calls on backup QB C.J. Beathard, whom Schefter suggests could be on the move.
  • The Falcons have fielded calls on DT Tyeler Davison, per Lombardi, but Atlanta has told other teams Davison will not be moved. The team is also going to hang on to TE Austin Hooper, as Schefter tweets.
  • The Giants are likely to cut Nate Solder after the season, so Lombardi believes Big Blue should go ahead and trade him now (though HC Pat Shurmur, whose job could be in jeopardy, would likely resist such a move). The Browns continue to be in the market for OT help, as Schefter writes, and the Patriots may also be interested in a reunion with Solder. Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com says Solder was not a viable option for Cleveland as of the middle of last week, but that could change in the next couple of days.
  • Janoris Jenkins is another member of the Giants who could be on the move, and while he is likely open to joining a contender, he just wants New York to be transparent with their plans for him, as Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post writes. That sentiment was also expressed by former Giants like Landon Collins and Odell Beckham Jr., who both felt as though Shurmur and GM Dave Gettleman were not straightforward with them. Dunleavy names the Chiefs as a potential landing spot for Jenkins.
  • Interest remains heavy on Broncos vets Chris Harris Jr. and Derek Wolfe, as La Canfora writes. Denver is open to moving Harris and Wolfe, and rival GMs expect the Broncos to make those trades happen.

Trade Notes: Falcons, Bengals, Browns, Broncos, Jets, Redskins, Giants, Eagles, Bills, Packers

Teams continue to ask about Austin Hooper, whose 526 receiving yards sit 11th in the NFL entering Week 8. However, the Falcons have spurned suitors who’ve called about the emerging tight end, Albert Breer of SI.com notes. Hooper is in a contract year, but the Falcons believe they have a chance to re-sign him. The Falcons, though, are the team doing the contacting regarding Vic Beasley. Atlanta is shopping its former All-Pro defensive end, who is playing out a $12.8MM fifth-year option. Pass rushers are obviously valuable, but with Beasley’s play having fallen off since that 2016 breakthrough, the return might not be what the Falcons seek.

Here is the latest from the trade market:

  • The Redskins continue to respond with hard nos when asked about Trent Williams, but Breer adds Josh Norman‘s name has been floated around. With Norman having not lived up to the $15MM-AAV contract he signed in 2016, it would be hard to imagine the Redskins getting much value for the eighth-year cornerback.
  • A cornerback performing better continues to look likelier to stay put. Chris Harris does not expect to be traded, and Troy Renck of Denver7 notes the Broncos are not as motivated to deal their four-time Pro Bowler as they were to ship out Emmanuel Sanders. A second-round pick would likely be necessary here, per Breer. Considering the Broncos’ issues finding corners as of late, dealing Harris would create a massive offseason need in Denver.
  • The Bengals are 0-7, and A.J. Green continues to come up in trade rumors. But the old-school organization isn’t budging. Mike Brown has not signed off on a firesale, Breer adds, instead preferring to provide first-year HC Zac Taylor with a foundation. That project is not going well so far, with the veteran-laden team performing poorly. Cincinnati’s potential trade chips also include franchise sack leaders Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap. Neither appears to be a departure candidate. Tyler Eifert is a name Breer mentions could be dealt, but the tight end obviously has a significant injury history that would limit a return.
  • As for the expensive New York corners, Janoris Jenkins has generated more interest than Trumaine Johnson. The Giants have shopped Jenkins around some, per Breer, while Ralph Vacchiano of SNY notes it would require “a miracle” for a team to take Johnson’s salary off the Jets‘ payroll. Jenkins is signed through 2020, with $5.37MM remaining in 2019 salary.
  • In addition to the Saints exploring receiver additions, the Bills, Eagles and Packers are as well, Breer notes. This could heat up the Robby Anderson market, but Breer adds Browns wideout Rashard Higgins has been discussed in advance of Tuesday’s deadline. The backup is in a contract year. However, Higgins has battled knee issues and has only played in one 2019 game.
  • With Mark Andrews having outproduced Hayden Hurst, the Ravens have received calls on their 2018 top pick. As of now, however, Hurst is not believed to be available, per Breer.

Falcons Believe They’ll Keep Austin Hooper

The Falcons’ fire sale is underway, but it sounds like Austin Hooper will be staying put. Even though the tight end is bound for unrestricted free agency as the Falcons look to manage salary cap issues, club officials still believe they can re-sign him this offseason, Jeff Schultz of The Athletic tweets

With that in mind, there’s little motivation for the Falcons to trade Hooper, who has been one of the few major bright spots for the Falcons during an otherwise dismal year. To date, Hooper has reeled in 46 catches for 526 yards and four touchdowns, putting him on pace to blow past last year’s 71/660/4 stat line. And, just a couple of weeks ago, he reminded everyone in Atlanta of just how dangerous he can be with eight catches, 117 yards, and a touchdown against the Rams.

Hooper, 25 in November, is earning just $2.025MM in base pay in the final year of his rookie contract. The 6’4″ target is in line for a major pay day in March, but the Falcons seem willing to be the ones writing the check.

There could be even more targets and opportunities for Hooper in the second half of the year. Mohamed Sanu, who drew 42 looks in seven games, was shipped to the Patriots on Tuesday morning in exchange for a second-round pick.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Teams Identifying Falcons Trade Targets

While standout contract-year Broncos (and Von Miller) have cropped up in trade rumors, teams are also monitoring select Falcons. Atlanta has slunk to 1-4 and has a few key veterans on expiring contracts.

Vic Beasley, De’Vondre Campbell and Austin Hooper are on some teams’ radars, Albert Breer of SI.com notes. The Falcons gave megadeals to a defensive lineman (Grady Jarrett), a linebacker (Deion Jones) and a pass catcher (Julio Jones) this summer but have the above starters in contract years. This year’s trade deadline is Oct. 29.

Arthur Blank said the Falcons are not considering staff changes, but with this veteran team struggling (and the Redskins firing Jay Gruden), Dan Quinn‘s seat may be the NFL’s hottest. The Falcons are 8-13 since advancing to the divisional round in 2017, and they’ve gone through several coordinators since the Super Bowl LI collapse.

Pro Football Focus graded Beasley as its worst full-time edge defender in 2018. The site again has the 2015 first-round pick toward the bottom this season. Beasley (1.5 sacks, five QB hits) has nearly $10MM remaining on his 2019 fifth-year option, making a trade a tougher sell. The 27-year-old pass rusher was a 2016 All-Pro, however, after racking up 15.5 sacks during Atlanta’s NFC title slate.

Campbell has started alongside Jones since the duo’s 2016 rookie season, rates as PFF’s No. 33 off-ball linebacker and is finishing out a fourth-round contract. Less than $2MM remains on Campbell’s 2019 salary. He has made a Falcons-best 48 tackles and forced two fumbles this season. Finishing up a third-round contract, Hooper has served as the Falcons’ top tight end for multiple seasons. His 363 yards in 2019 rank third among tight ends.

Projected to be more than $10MM over the 2020 cap, the Falcons will almost certainly have to let some of these UFAs-to-be walk if they are not traded. The Falcons could fetch 2021 compensatory picks for them, however, depending on their 2020 free agency activity.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extension Candidate: Austin Hooper

With the Falcons’ front office focusing its efforts on star wide receiver Julio Jones at the moment, it stands to reason that contract negotiations for other key players would take a temporary backseat. But once the Jones situation is resolved, Atlanta could turn its attention to an extension for tight end Austin Hooper, who became a reliable target for Matt Ryan in 2018 en route to his first Pro Bowl bid.

Now that Hooper has completed his third year in the league, he is eligible for a new contract. And since the Stanford product was a third-round selection, he cannot be kept under club control via the fifth-year option, so he will become an unrestricted free agent next year if he and the Falcons do not agree to an extension before then.

The market for tight ends has not taken off in the same way that the markets for edge rushers and quarterbacks have, so it would behoove the Falcons to commit a relatively small percentage of their cap space to a rising player who could be a fixture on the offense for years to come. Two of the best tight ends in the league, Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz, are making less than $10MM per season, and even Rob Gronkowski was unable to crack the eight-figure barrier before his retirement. The Bears gave Trey Burton a four-year, $32MM pact last offseason based largely on Burton’s upside rather than his production to that point in his career, so it may take a little more than that for the Falcons to keep Hooper. Given the ever-rising salary cap, though, that does not seem like too steep of a price to pay.

Hooper lasted until the third round of the 2016 draft due to concerns about his hands and route-running, but he has largely quieted those concerns over his first three years in the league. And while his receiving ability is going to be what gets him the payday he’s seeking, he was an above-average performer in terms of run-blocking and pass-blocking last year, per Pro Football Focus’ metrics.

Advanced analytics from PFF and Football Outsiders still peg Hooper as more of a solid player than an elite one, but his trajectory is quite promising just the same, and when a club extends a player, it often makes sense to pay for trajectory rather than past performance.

In 2018, Hooper caught 71 passes — on 88 targets, for a league-best 81% catch rate — for 660 yards and four touchdowns. He may never become the threat that Kelce and Ertz are, but the Falcons don’t necessarily need that. They need a dependable outlet for Ryan who catches passes that are thrown his way, who can create mismatches over the middle of the field, and who can make defenses pay for focusing their attention on other players (like Jones).

Hooper represents all of those things, and he should only get better. A five-year, $42.5MM pact with $20MM or so in guarantees seems to make sense for both sides.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

2019 Proven Performance Escalators

According to the NFL’s contractual bargaining agreement, players drafted in rounds three though seven are entitled to raises during the fourth year of their respective rookie contracts. The pay bumps are tied to playing time — a player must have played in 35% of his team’s offensive or defensive snaps in two of his first three seasons, or averaged 35% playing time cumulatively during that period.

If one of these thresholds is met, the player’s salary is elevated to the level of that year’s lowest restricted free agent tender — that figure should be around $2MM in 2019. Players selected in the first or second round, undrafted free agents, and kickers/punters are ineligible for the proven performance escalator.

Here are the players who will see their salary rise in 2019 courtesy of the proven performance escalator:

Bears: RB Jordan Howard, LB Nick Kwiatkoski

Bengals: LB Nick Vigil

Broncos: G Connor McGovern, S Will Parks, S Justin Simmons

Browns: S Derrick Kindred, LB Joe Schobert

Buccaneers: G Caleb Benenoch, DE Carl Nassib, CB Ryan Smith

Chargers: LB Jatavis Brown

Chiefs: CB Kendall Fuller, WR Tyreek Hill, S Eric Murray, WR Demarcus Robinson

Colts: QB Jacoby Brissett, T Joe Haeg

Cowboys: CB Anthony Brown, DT Maliek Collins, QB Dak Prescott

Dolphins: RB Kenyan Drake

Eagles: CB Jalen Mills, T Halapoulivaati Vaitai

Falcons: LB De’Vondre Campbell, TE Austin Hooper, G Wes Schweitzer

Jaguars: DE Yannick Ngakoue

Jets: LB Jordan Jenkins, CB Rashard Robinson, T Brandon Shell

Lions: C Graham Glasgow

Packers: LB Kyler Fackrell, DE Dean Lowry, LB Blake Martinez, LB Antonio Morrison

Patriots: G Joe Thuney, LB Elandon Roberts

Rams: G Austin Blythe, TE Tyler Higbee

Ravens: DE Matt Judon, OL Alex Lewis, CB Tavon Young

Saints: DT David Onyemata

Steelers: DT Javon Hargrave

Texans: DT D.J. Reader

Titans: S Kevin Byard, WR Tajae Sharpe

OverTheCap.com was essential in the creation of this post. Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images. 

Falcons Sign Entire Draft Class

The Falcons have now signed their entire draft class, as Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com writes. Strong safety Keanu Neal (whose signing was completed days ago), linebacker Deion Jones (second round), tight end Austin Hooper (third round), linebacker De’Vondre Campbell (fourth round), guard Wes Schweitzer (sixth round), and wide receiver Devin Fuller (seventh round) have all put pen to paper. Deion Jones (vertical)

Jones, an LSU product, finished out his college career in style with 88 total tackles, 12.5 tackles for a loss, two interceptions, one forced fumble, and three passes defensed. Jones started only one game through his first three years in Baton Rouge, but he exploded when given the opportunity in his senior season. Jones impressed scouts with a 4.38 second 40-yard-dash at his Pro Day and despite concerns about being undersized, he drew interest from a host of teams looking for a tough linebacker.

In other Falcons news, linebacker O’Brien Schofield is lobbying hard for a reunion. Meanwhile, free agent cornerback Leon Hall remains on the open market after his visit with Atlanta.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Draft Rumors: Robinson, Panthers, Jets

Alabama defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson will visit the Lions, Panthers, and Jets in the coming days, Eddie Borsilli of SiriusXM tweets. Robinson, who likely projects as a defensive tackle for a team running a 4-3 scheme or a defensive end for a 3-4 defense, is considered one of the top defensive linemen available this spring. A Consensus All-American in his junior year, Robinson recorded 46 tackles (7.5 for a loss) to go along with his 3.5 sacks. After helping his team win a National Championship this past season, Robinson seems poised to enter the league as a first-round draft pick.

The latest draft rumors:

  • Multiple teams have taken Bowling Green wide receiver Roger Lewis and Arizona wide receiver Cayleb Jones off their boards due to off-field issues, Matt Miller of Bleacher Report tweets.
  • UCLA offensive lineman Caleb Benenoch is set to visit the Titans and Texans, as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. The athletic offensive lineman is widely viewed as a second-round prospect.
  • Stanford tight end Austin Hooper visited the Titans and Bears earlier this week, Rand Getlin of NFL.com tweets. The 6’4″, 254-pound athlete is a likely top-50 pick, Getlin adds.
  • So far, Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds has had workouts with the Ravens, Patriots, and Titans, according to freelance reporter Jenna Laine (via Twitter).
  • Ohio State safety Vonn Bell has (or has had) meetings, workouts and/or visits with the Falcons, Steelers, and Titans, Rand Getlin of NFL.com tweets.
  • Houston corner William Jackson III visited the Ravens last week and will meet with the Raiders on Tuesday, Aaron Wilson of The Houston Chronicle tweets.
  • Norfolk State linebacker Deon King has worked out privately for the Broncos, Raiders, 49ers, Colts, and Washington and will visit with the Cowboys, according to Wilson. King finished his collegiate career with 372 tackles, 52.5 tackles for losses, 22 sacks, five fumble recoveries, four forced fumbles and three interceptions. King was an All-American selection and a three-time all-conference selection.

NFC Draft Rumors: Eagles, Lynch, Washington

The Eagles will work out Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch and it’s not just for kicks, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. Despite having Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel under contract, Rapoport says they’re serious about Lynch and they’re taking owner Jeffrey Lurie on each trip.

While we wait to see if the Eagles’ QB situation could get even weirder, here’s a look at some more draft news from the NFC:

  • Boston College linebacker Steven Daniels worked out for the Eagles on Wednesday, according to Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net (for WalterFootball.com). Daniels has also auditioned for New Orleans.
  • Coach Jay Gruden says he wants Washington to draft a developmental quarterback, as Tarik El-Bashir of CSNMidAtlantic.com writes. “You have your starter. You got your quality backup. And you’ve got to have [another] one in the [quarterback meeting] room—whether it’s your third on the active roster or a practice squad guy—that you can develop,” Gruden said last week. Of course, Kirk Cousins will be the team’s starter with Colt McCoy as his primary understudy. However, Gruden would like to add a young QB who can be groomed without an immediate timeline.
  • The Buccaneers worked out UTSA tight end David Morgan on Tuesday, according to Jenna Laine of Sports Talk 1040 (on Twitter). Morgan also worked out for Philadelphia recently.
  • The Falcons were at Stanford on Wednesday to work out tight end Austin Hooper and linebacker Blake Martinez, according to Tony Pauline for Walter Football. On Tuesday, Atlanta coaches were at Washington State to scope out Washington State offensive lineman Joseph Dahl, receiver Dominique Williams, and defensive lineman Destiny Vaeao.