Austin Hooper

Browns Edged Redskins For Austin Hooper

Several teams expressed interest in Austin Hooper, who became the first free agent to agree to a deal after the tampering period began. While the Browns won the bidding, they beat out a team with a much bigger tight end need.

Seeing their first- and second-string tight ends miss almost all of last season, and each now off the roster, the Redskins emerged as an early Hooper suitor. And the former Falcons tight end confirmed his final decision came down to the Browns and Redskins.

It really came down to Cleveland and Washington. At the end, I chose to be a Brown,” Hooper said during a Sirius XM Radio interview (via NBC Sports Washington). “Redskins were definitely a team that had shown interest I would say. Definitely a solid organization with another talented young quarterback, so that was going to be my next landing spot.”

The Redskins have moved forward without Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis, releasing the former and seeing the latter retire. Ron Rivera pursued a Greg Olsen reunion, but the longtime Panthers tight end chose the Seahawks. Washington has since added Richard Rodgers and former quarterback Logan Thomas but likely is not done restocking this position group.

The Bears and Packers joined the Redskins in the Hooper mix, but the Browns — despite their David Njoku employment — won out with a $10.5MM-per-year offer. Chicago submitted a surprising offer to Jimmy Graham (two years, $16MM), while Green Bay re-signed Marcedes Lewis.

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Browns To Sign Austin Hooper

The Browns have reached agreement with Austin Hooper, as NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport tweets. The deal will make Hooper the league’s highest paid tight end of all time. Hooper has also personally confirmed that the Browns are likely to land him (Twitter link via Adam Schefter of ESPN.com). 

I’m definitely leaning Cleveland. Unless something comes up unexpected, then no question Cleveland is the leader,” Hooper said.

Once finalized, the deal will pay Hooper $42MM over four years, as Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com tweets. The pact includes $18.5MM fully guaranteed at signing with $23MM locked in through the first two years. The average annual value of $10.5MM makes Hooper the league’s best compensated TE in NFL history, putting him ahead of Jimmy Graham. Graham, before he was cut, was on a deal that paid him $10MM per annum.

Hooper has drawn interest from just about everyone in recent weeks and, unlike the incumbent Falcons, they had enough available cap room to swing a deal. The deal, for now, is a (teleconferenced) handshake. On Wednesday, the two sides can make things official when the 2020 league year officially begins.

In 13 games for Atlanta in 2019, the two-time Pro Bowler set career-highs in catches (75), receiving yards (787), and touchdowns (six). In Cleveland, Hooper would provide Baker Mayfield with yet another explosive offensive weapon. Last year, despite all of their immense talent, the Browns were unable to capitalize.

This year, things could be different under their new regime, and their aerial attack could be more dangerous than ever. Meanwhile, the Browns will keep their fingers crossed for the swift and full recoveries of Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, both of whom are coming off of surgery. If they’re good to go, opposing defenses will have their hands full with Hooper, OBJ, Landry, and David Njoku, who would likely line up in two tight end sets with the team’s new high-priced addition.

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FA Notes: Clowney, Harris, Hooper, Saints

Jadeveon Clowney has drawn interest from other teams — the Colts and Giants among them — but the Seahawks remain interested in bringing him back. However, they may not be ready to pay top dollar for the former No. 1 overall pick. The Seahawks are trying to extend Clowney before he hits free agency March 18, but Jeremy Fowler and Dan Graziano of ESPN.com report the franchise is unlikely to compete with a true top-market price (ESPN+ link). If the bidding goes into the $18-$20MM-per-year range, which it almost certainly will given other teams’ franchise tags keeping edge players off the market, the Seahawks are not expected to go there. This would mean the Seahawks will have lost two standout edge rushers in two years, after trading Frank Clark to the Chiefs. Seattle, which did not see much from first-round defensive end L.J. Collier last season, is set to carry more than $44MM in cap space.

Both the Colts and Titans are interested and are not afraid of Clowney’s asking price, per Fowler and Graziano. A new entry in the Clowney sweepstakes, Tennessee could use edge help but seemingly has key issues to sort out involving Ryan Tannehill (or a replacement) and Derrick Henry first.

Here is the latest from the free agency market, shifting to one of this era’s top cornerbacks:

  • Chris Harris appears set to have a busy legal tampering period. The four-time Pro Bowl cornerback has drawn interest from the Cowboys, Jets, Lions, Raiders and Texans, Troy Renck of Denver7 tweets. The final holdover from the Broncos’ dominant Super Bowl-winning secondary, Harris both expressed a desire to finish his career in Denver and hit the market for the first time. While the Broncos have not ruled out another extension for the 30-year-old cornerback, Harris expects to be elsewhere in 2020. Harris met with at least 24 teams at the Combine, including the Cowboys, per Calvin Watkins of the Dallas Morning News (on Twitter). A Cowboys fit would be interesting, with the team set to lose Byron Jones. The Broncos are one of the teams targeting Jones.
  • In Demario Davis, the Saints already have a 30-something entrenched as a starting linebacker. However, New Orleans is interested in Patriots free agent Jamie Collins, Larry Holder of The Athletic notes (subscription required). Collins, 30, enjoyed a bounce-back season back in New England, after he did not justify his then-off-ball-‘backer-record deal in Cleveland. The Saints have A.J. Klein as a free agent-to-be and can save $8MM by releasing Kiko Alonso.
  • While the Saints were willing to let Kenny Vaccaro walk two years ago, they want to retain Vonn Bell, Holder adds. It would be at a price, however. Considering the Saints added promising safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson in the fourth round last year and have Marcus Williams as an extension candidate, their Bell price point may be low.
  • The tight end landscape could look strange by the time George Kittle‘s negotiations ramp up. Austin Hooper is expected to become the league’s highest-paid tight end — by a considerable margin — in free agency, Graziano and Fowler note. A 2016 third-round pick, Hooper has made the Pro Bowl twice but has only one 700-yard season on his resume. However, the Falcons tight end was on pace for nearly 1,000 yards before a midseason hamstring injury. The Falcons will let Hooper test the market, and with this draft not deep at tight end, the market will likely be robust. The Bears, Packers and Redskins are interested.
  • Phillip Lindsay has exploded out of the blocks to start his career, becoming the first UDFA to start his NFL run with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. But backfield mate Royce Freeman, a Broncos 2018 third-round pick, has underwhelmed. The Broncos may be eyeing an upgrade, with Mike Klis of 9News tweeting the team is exploring veteran backs on the market. With teams potentially skittish about big deals for backs, after some recent ones backfired, some bigger-name backs may be available at reasonable rates.

Packers To Pursue Austin Hooper; Latest On Aaron Jones

An Aaron RodgersAustin Hooper connection is a pretty scary proposition for the Packers’ NFC rivals, and that’s exactly what Green Bay is hoping to create this offseason. Per Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com, the Packers want to add a receiving weapon in free agency and in the draft, and they plan to pursue Hooper, the best TE available on the free agent market.

Already this morning we heard that the Bears and Redskins are interested in Hooper, but given that they advanced to the NFC Championship Game in 2019 and have a future Hall of Famer under center, the Packers look like a much much more appealing landing spot for Hooper if they can make the money work. The 25-year-old will likely take home a contract paying him at least $12MM per season, and the tight end market as a whole is widely expected to be reset this year after it has stagnated for some time.

Indeed, the Packers’ own Jimmy Graham has long been the TE pacesetter in terms of average annual value ($10MM), but his play has not really merited that status in recent years. He did lead Green Bay tight ends with 38 catches for 447 yards in 2019, but an upgrade is definitely in order.

Hooper would provide just that. In 13 games for Atlanta in 2019, the 25-year-old two-time Pro Bowler set career-highs in receptions (75), yards (787), and touchdowns (six). Green Bay has often asked Rodgers to make hay out of an underwhelming receiving corps, and a combination of Davante Adams, Hooper, and perhaps a rookie WR from a class that is historically deep at the position would undoubtedly make A-Rod a very happy man. Adding Hooper may also allow the team to cut Graham and save about $8MM against the cap, which would help pay for Hooper’s salary.

Of course, the team also hopes RB Aaron Jones will stick around for the foreseeable future after a monster 2019 campaign as a do-it-all playmaker for the Green Bay offense. Jones is now eligible for an extension after having completed three years in the league, and Demovsky says the Packers were scheduled to meet with his reps at the scouting combine. Jones, a 2017 fifth-rounder, is interested in having contract talks.

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Bears, Redskins Interested In Austin Hooper

The Falcons would like to re-sign tight end Austin Hooper, the best player at his position eligible for free agency, but their tight salary cap situation means they will have to let him test the open market. You can expect plenty of interest in Hooper’s services, and as Jason Lieser of the Chicago Sun-Times writes, the Bears are planning to pursue the two-time Pro Bowler. Meanwhile, Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com hears that the Redskins will also go after Hooper (Twitter link).

The interest from Chicago and Washington makes plenty of sense. Not only has the tight end position become hugely important in many NFL offenses over the past several seasons, but neither club got much production from their own TEs in 2019. The Bears’ Trey Burton saw his second year in Chicago almost completely wiped out by mismanaged recovery from sports hernia surgery and a calf injury, and as Lieser notes, Burton underwent surgery again this offseason. While the team is hopeful he can return to form in 2020, it’s far from a certainty. And even if he does, having a weapon like Hooper would be a huge lift to an offense that relies heavily on tight ends and that features an uncertain QB situation.

The Redskins also make plenty of sense as a landing spot for Hooper. The club pursued Greg Olsen before he signed with the Seahawks, and Washington needs to add to its cadre of weapons for Dwayne Haskins, or whoever happens to be under center in 2020. Last year, the Redskins’ tight end group was paced by Jeremy Sprinkle, who caught 26 passes for 241 yards and a TD.

In Atlanta, Hooper, 25, was busy setting career-highs in receptions (75), yards (787), and touchdowns (six), despite playing in only 13 games. He is clearly a player on the rise, and he will be a hot commodity over the coming weeks.

Lieser believes the Bears are a long-shot to sign him, and it’s unclear if Hooper would want to join a rebuilding outfit like the Redskins, as he will likely have more appealing destinations available to him.

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Falcons To Let Hooper, Campbell Test FA

The Falcons would like to re-sign two of their key players, but they won’t stop them from testing the open waters. Tight ends Austin Hooper and De’Vondre Campbell will be permitted to explore free agency, GM Thomas Dimitroff told reporters on Tuesday morning (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport). 

[RELATED: Falcons To Pick Up Matt Schaub’s Option]

As of this writing, the Falcons have approximately $5MM in cap room. They can carve out more by shedding running back Devonta Freeman, safety Keanu Neal, offensive tackle Ty Sambrailo, defensive lineman Allen Bailey, and other veterans, but their cap situation will be tight regardless. Meanwhile, they have other areas to address, including the secondary.

Hooper took full advantage of his walk year, reeling in 75 catches, 787 yards, and six touchdowns in just 13 games. He’s a dynamic threat at the tight end position with two 70-catch seasons under his belt and it’s expected that he’ll be lavished with big money offers when the bell rings in March. Hooper is still just 25 (he turns 26 in November) and retaining him would require a top-of-the-market deal.

At one point in January, the Falcons and Campbell were discussing an extension. But, over the last few weeks, those talks between Dimitroff and agent Drew Rosenhaus have slowed down. Last year, Campbell led the Falcons in tackles for the second straight year and turned in a perfect attendance record for the third straight season. As a young and elite run-stopper, Campbell may have also priced himself out of Atlanta.

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Latest On Falcons TE Austin Hooper

Following the best statistical season of his career, Falcons tight end Austin Hooper is set to hit free agency. However, the Pro Bowler told 92.9 The Game in Atlanta that the front office hasn’t approached him about a new contract (Twitter link).

“I mean my whole attitude is that it will happen the way its supposed to,” Hooper said. “I did my part, ended up here at the Pro Bowl, so if the organization wants me, they’ll offer me [a contract].

“I still haven’t received an offer from them. If and when they’re ready…I’ll let my representation and the representation of the Falcons handle it. But as of now, I’m just enjoying what could be my last game as a Falcon down here at the Pro Bowl.”

General manager Thomas Dimitroff recently echoed those sentiments.

“The reality of right now is we are trudging along,” Dimitroff said (via the team’s website). “After the Super Bowl week, we’ll continue to see how we’re moving forward. At this point, there’s no updates on Austin.”

We heard earlier this week that the organization wouldn’t be slapping Hooper with the franchise tag, which is projected to be north of $10MM. After handing out a number of lucrative extensions last offseason, the Falcons are projected to have only $6.7MM in cap space this year. If they want to retain Hooper, they’ll have to keep creative with their cap machinations.

Despite appearing in a career-low 13 games, Hooper finished with career-highs in receptions (75), receiving yards (787), and touchdowns (six).

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Falcons Unlikely To Tag Austin Hooper

The Falcons used their 2019 offseason to sign three of their top players to lucrative extensions. Partially because of this, their 2020 offseason may be a bit quieter. While the team has identified multiple players it would like to retain, GM Thomas Dimitroff does not have much cap space with which to work.

Austin Hooper loomed as a trade candidate before this season’s deadline, but the Falcons held onto him and identified their top tight end as a player they could potentially extend. Dimitroff acknowledged Tuesday that the sides have not engaged in contract talks and that the franchise tag does not appear realistic, per Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com (on Twitter).

The tight end franchise tag is expected to come in at approximately $10.7MM. While Dimitroff indicated that is technically an option, the Falcons’ projected $6.7MM in cap space (fifth-least in the NFL) will make such a move difficult.

Hooper broke out in his contract year, establishing new career-high marks in catches (75), yards (787) and touchdowns (six). He did so in 13 games, missing three because of a hamstring injury. The Falcons have begun talks with linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, but with the team having already extended Deion Jones, it would seem Campbell could well join Hooper in free agency. The Falcons used their 2019 tag on Grady Jarrett before extending him in July; they then gave Julio Jones a monster extension.

Should he reach the market, he would join Eric Ebron and Hunter Henry as a top tight end available. The Colts have indicated they will not move to re-sign Ebron, while nothing has come out on Chargers talks with Henry.

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NFC South Notes: JPP, Panthers, Falcons

Bruce Arians has understandably asserted Shaquil Barrett‘s all-time contract year will keep him with the Buccaneers but added the team wants to keep its other high-profile front-seven starters as well. Both Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh‘s contracts are up, but Arians said keeping both will be a top priority (Twitter link via Scott Smith of Buccaneers.com). The veteran HC may have indicated JPP resides slightly higher on the priority list as well, per Greg Auman of The Athletic (on Twitter). Pierre-Paul returned from another scary injury this season and has registered 8.5 sacks in 10 games, giving him 21 in two Bucs seasons. The Bucs hold a great deal of cap space, at $88.9MM, but will likely need to devote a chunk of that amount to Jameis Winston.

Here is the latest from the AFC South:

  • If Greg Olsen opts to put off his broadcasting career for another year, he will likely need to relocate. The veteran tight end indicated recently he did not want to take part in a potential Panthers rebuild. While the franchise has not committed to charting that path, Joe Person of The Athletic expects Olsen to be elsewhere in 2020. “I just think sometimes the writing’s on the wall,” Olsen said, via Joe Person of The Athletic (subscription required). “There hasn’t been anything officially. But I wanted to make sure if that was my last time that I made sure I told the people that I needed to how much they meant on my career.” One year (at a $6.6MM base salary) remains on the 34-year-old tight end’s contract. Carolina would save $8.1MM by cutting Olsen, its top tight end for the past nine years.
  • Moving to a younger NFC South tight end, Austin Hooper acknowledged the Falcons have not yet made him an offer to stay, per D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Twitter link). Hooper, however, would like to return, and Thomas Dimitroff appeared to indicate the breakout tight end will be a priority (Twitter link via Ledbetter). We heard this earlier this season as well.
  • A Hooper return may lead De’Vondre Campbell elsewhere. The Falcons already gave a top-market contract to Deion Jones and are up against the salary cap. While noting he wants to stay in Atlanta, the Falcons’ top 2019 tackler acknowledged (via ESPN.com’s Vaughn McClure) he may need to change teams. Although the Falcons will consider re-signing Campbell and Vic Beasley, Dimitroff did not commit to either’s return (via McClure, on Twitter).
  • Despite Breshad Perriman‘s end-of-season stretch potentially raising his free agency price, the Buccaneers‘ No. 3 wideout would like to stay in this high-octane offense. Perriman signed a one-year, $4MM deal with Tampa Bay, doing so after backing out of a Cleveland commitment following the Odell Beckham Jr. trade. The Bucs have Mike Evans on a high-end deal and will see Chris Godwin enter a contract year in 2020, perhaps pushing Perriman to another team.
  • A player the Panthers do not want on another team: James Bradberry. Carolina’s top cornerback met with GM Marty Hurney, and David Newton of ESPN.com notes the fourth-year corner received a “be patient” message from this summit. The Panthers want Bradberry back, Newton adds, but the former Round 2 pick would obviously prefer an upper-echelon deal to stay.

Injury Notes: Vernon, Falcons, Njoku, Cole

With defensive lineman Myles Garrett and Larry Objunjobi suspended for this week’s matchup against the Bengals, the Browns were hoping to invite starting end Olivier Vernon back into the lineup after missing the team’s previous two games with a knee injury. However, according to Mary Kay Kabot of Cleveland.com, Vernon has been ruled out for Sunday’s contest, leaving Sheldon Richardson as the team’s only primary starter along the defensive front.

It has been a chaotic season for Cleveland, reaching a climax in last Thursday’s on-field fight with the Steelers. Hoping to put that in the rear-view mirror the Browns will have to rely heavily on their depth to build some positive momentum.

Here’s some more injury notes from around the NFL:

  • The Falcons will be without two of their primary offensive weapons this weekend. Running back Devonta Freeman and tight end Austin Hooper are both out for this Sunday’s game alongside rotational defensive back Kemal Ishmael, according to D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitutional.
  • Browns tight end David Njoku will not return this week from the injured reserve, according to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. Njoku, who has been rehabbing a wrist injury, returned to practice this week, but is not quite ready for game action.
  • Texans linebacker Dylan Cole is out for the season with a torn ACL, according to Aaron Wilson of The Houston Chronicle. Cole served as Houston’s primary backup at two linebacker positions and played a major role in the team’s special teams. He played in 11 games and recorded 16 tackles on the season. Going forward, the Texans will need to sure up their depth on special teams and on the second level of their defense.