Austin Hooper

Nine Teams Gain Cap Space From Post-June 1 Cuts

Although early June no longer serves as a stretch in which a wave of veterans are released for cap-saving purposes, June 2 still serves as an important calendar date for certain teams annually. Nine teams qualify as beneficiaries this year.

Eleven players were designated as post-June 1 cuts this year, via CBS Sports’ Joel Corry. Due to a longstanding CBA provision, teams that designate players as post-June 1 releases see the dead-money burden lessened for that year. Teams can designate up to two players as post-June 1 releases each year.

Here are 2022’s post-June 1 cuts, along with the belated cap savings the teams picked up Thursday:

Arizona Cardinals

Chicago Bears

Cleveland Browns

Dallas Cowboys

Las Vegas Raiders

Philadelphia Eagles

Seattle Seahawks

Tennessee Titans

Washington Commanders

As detailed in PFR’s glossary, post-June 1 cuts spread dead-money hits over two years. These teams will be taking on dead money this year and next. A few of the 2023 hits are substantial, but the league’s cap-space hierarchy changed significantly Thursday as well.

Because of multiple restructures, Raiders will carry $9.9MM in Littleton dead money next year. The Cowboys will take on $8.7MM in 2023 for cutting Collins, while the Titans will be hit with $8.4MM for their Jones release. Cleveland, which just gave David Njoku a $14.2MM-per-year deal, will carry a $7.5MM dead-money cost next year due to shedding Hooper’s eight-figure-AAV deal early. The Eagles will be tagged with $11.5MM for their Cox cut, with Corry noting that is the net difference because of a $3.2MM salary cap credit regarding Cox’s 2022 bonus proration. Philadelphia re-signed the perennial Pro Bowler on a one-year, $14MM deal.

Hooper’s release pushes Cleveland’s cap space to beyond $40MM; the Browns’ overall cap-space edge is now a whopping $15MM. That should help the team address multiple needs ahead of training camp. Other teams have more options now, too. As of Thursday, the Raiders hold the NFL’s third-most cap space ($22.5MM, per OverTheCap). The $10MM the Cowboys saved moves them up to fourth in cap space ($22.49MM), while the Bears ($22.2MM), Commanders ($18.4MM) and Seahawks ($17MM) now sit fifth, sixth and seventh.

A handful of this year’s post-June 1 cut crop joined Cox in taking advantage of the modern setup, which allows these cap casualties to become free agents immediately — rather than waiting until June to hit the market. In place since the 2006 CBA, this adjustment let veterans loose early while keeping their cap figures on teams’ payrolls through May. Collins quickly joined the Bengals, while Littleton landed with the Panthers, Hooper signed with the Titans, and Phillips returned to the Bills. The remainder of this group remains unsigned. The savings this lot of teams inherited Thursday may help some of these players’ causes in free agency.

Titans To Sign Austin Hooper

Austin Hooper has reportedly found his new home. The veteran tight end is signing a one-year, $6MM contract, reports NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero (on Twitter). 

[RELATED: Browns To Release Hooper]

Hooper, 27, started his career in Atlanta. He played four seasons there, earning Pro Bowls nods in 2018 and 2019. He posted a combined total of 146 catches, 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns during that time. That production made him a highly sought-after commodity in free agency.

Hooper signed a four-year, $42MM deal with the Browns, making him the highest-paid TE in league history at the time. In two seasons in Cleveland, he played (and started) in 29 contests. Over that stretch, he posted 84 receptions for 780 yards and seven touchdowns. That certainly wasn’t the production the team had been expecting, which partially opened the door to a parting of ways.

More signs pointed to a departure when the team placed the franchise tag on fellow TE David Njoku. The latter has been with the Browns since being drafted in the first round by them in 2017. While he also hasn’t emerged as one of the league’s elite seam-stretchers (with a career-high of 639 receiving yards), Njoku represents a better fit in the Browns’ run-heavy offense. Keeping Hooper at a cap hit of over $13MM with Njoku still in the fold was never financially viable.

In Tennessee, Hooper will join an offense short on pass catchers. The team struggled to replace Jonnu Smith, who departed last offseason in free agency. Given that, as well as the release of Julio Jones, there should be plenty of targets available for the Stanford product. With Hooper off the market, the top remaining TEs include the likes of Rob Gronkowski, Gerald Everett and Blake Jarwin.

Browns To Cut TE Austin Hooper

The Browns are releasing tight end Austin Hooper (Twitter link via Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com). Using the post-June 1 designation, the Browns will spread his dead money hit across the next two seasons, rather than all at once.

[RELATED: Browns Place Franchise Tag On Njoku]

The Browns were giving serious thought to keeping Hooper alongside breakout star David Njoku. At least, that was their public position. In reality, there was little sense in keeping both players.

It’s been almost two years since Hooper inked a then record-breaking deal for tight ends, one that was slated to run through 2024. Now, instead of keeping him around as a secondary TE target in their Baker Mayfield-led offense, the Browns will cut Hooper to save $2MM on the 2022 books. Meanwhile, the $11.25MM dead money charge will be split between ’22 and ’23.

Hooper, still only 27, should hold appeal for TE-needy teams elsewhere. While his Cleveland run has been forgettable, it wasn’t long ago that he notched two consecutive Pro Bowl nods with the Falcons.

Browns Intend To Keep TE Austin Hooper

The Browns may have slapped David Njoku with the franchise tag, but the organization intends to keep their other pricey tight end. According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler (via Twitter), the organization’s plan is to keep Austin Hooper.

[RELATED: Browns Place Franchise Tag On David Njoku]

It’s been almost two years since Hooper inked a then record-breaking deal for tight ends, keeping him on the books in Cleveland until 2024. The Browns wouldn’t see a whole lot of savings by cutting Hooper, so it makes sense that they’ll keep him around as another target in the Baker Mayfield-led offense.

Hooper earned two-straight Pro Bowls during his final two seasons with the Falcons, and he had a career season just before hitting free agency. However, he’s disappointed a bit since catching on with Cleveland. In 29 games (29 starts) over the past two years, Hooper has hauled in only 84 receptions for 780 and seven touchdowns.

A first round pick in 2017, Njoku’s best season came one year later, when he posted 56 catches for 639 yards and four majors. The franchise tag means Njoku will make $10.8MM next season, making the two Browns teammates one of the highest-paid tight end duos in the NFL.

Browns Place Franchise Tag On David Njoku

The Browns are staying true to their stated goal of keeping David Njoku in the fold. Per a team announcement, they have placed the franchise tag on the tight end. 

[Related: Browns Want To Keep David Njoku]

One week ago, it was reported that Cleveland was intent on making a sizeable commitment to the 25-year-old. Specifically, a deal paying him eight figures per season on average was said to be what the team is willing to offer. That came as a surprise to many, mainly because of the presence of Austin Hooper and his contract. The former Falcon signed a then record-breaking deal for tight ends, which keeps him on the books in Cleveland until 2024.

For each of the next two seasons, Hooper will carry a cap hit of $13.25MM. If he plays on the tag, Njoku will make $10.8MM, giving the Browns an expensive tandem at the position, especially considering their combined production. In 2021, the pair totalled 820 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. Nevertheless, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport confirms that the team is treating the tag as simply a means of buying time for a long-term extension (Twitter link).

A first round pick in 2017, Njoku’s best season came one year later, when he posted 56 catches for 639 yards and four majors. Despite not putting up eye-popping numbers during his five seasons with the team, he has ultimately shown a willingness to stick around, in spite of the investment made in Hooper. For at least one more campaign, he will be able to do just that.

The team also announced they have tendered three exclusive rights free agents: wide receiver Ja’Marcus Bradleyas well as offensive linemen Michael Dunn and Blake Hance.

NFL COVID List Updates: 12/22/21

We’ve compiled a list of players who were placed or activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list today. In some instances (including Christian McCaffrey and Travis Etienne), players activated from the list remain on IR:

Arizona Cardinals

Baltimore Ravens

Carolina Panthers

Chicago Bears

Cleveland Browns

Dallas Cowboys

Denver Broncos

Detroit Lions

Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

Kansas City Chiefs

Las Vegas Raiders

Los Angeles Chargers

Los Angeles Rams

Miami Dolphins

Minnesota Vikings

New England Patriots

New Orleans Saints

New York Jets

Philadelphia Eagles

  • Placed on list: T Le’Raven Clark

Pittsburgh Steelers

Seattle Seahawks

Tennessee Titans

Washington Football Team

Browns Place Eight Players On COVID-19 List

The Browns could be seriously shorthanded for Saturday’s game against the Raiders. On Tuesday, the Browns placed wide receiver Jarvis Landry, right guard Wyatt Teller, tight end Austin Hooper, left tackle Jedrick Wills, defensive end Takkarist McKinley and guard Drew Forbes (on IR) on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Meanwhile, tight end Ross Travis and return man JoJo Natson have been placed on the practice squad COVID list. 

[RELATED: Chargers’ Slater Placed On COVID-19 List]

All eight players have tested positive for the virus (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero), putting their availability in doubt. Still, as of this writing, the game is still slated to go ahead as planned on Saturday (Twitter link).

On Monday alone, 36 NFL players — including Chargers tackle Rashawn Slater — were placed on the COVID-19/Reserve list. Since then, the league has issued a memo requiring booster shots for all Tier 1 and 2 staff by Dec. 27. While players are not required to be vaccinated, coaches and trainers fall within Tier 1.

The Browns were already down three players on Sunday, including tight end David Njoku, thanks to the reserve/COVID-19 designation. Despite that, they still managed to beat the Ravens and advance to 7-6 on the year.

Browns Likely To Be Quiet At Trade Deadline

The Browns, currently sitting at 4-3 and in third place in the AFC North, are not expected to swing a major deal in advance of Tuesday’s trade deadline, according to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. Cabot does not anticipate the club acquiring a high-profile talent or trading one away.

Wide receiver Odell Beckham became the subject of trade speculation even before his first season in Cleveland was over, and those rumors have continued to crop up ever since. The Browns have done their best to quash all such rumblings, and Beckham will likely stay put at least through the end of the 2021 campaign. After all, he is dealing with a painful sprain in his right shoulder, and he is still owed $9MM over the rest of the season, so even if Cleveland were interesting in making a trade, there are obvious hurdles.

Plus, the Browns have every reason to keep Beckham around. Although he and QB Baker Mayfield have yet to develop a consistent rapport, OBJ continues to get open and remains an elite talent, so it would be surprising to see a Cleveland outfit that has postseason aspirations make that type of trade.

The same logic applies to tight ends David Njoku and Austin Hooper. Neither player has offered much production in 2021 — aside from a monster Week 5 game for Njoku that accounted for over half of his 2021 receiving yards and his only touchdown — but the hope is that the passing game will improve as the season goes on, just as it did last year. Njoku is playing on an expiring contract and requested a trade on several occasions last summer, but his most recent comments on the matter suggested that he would like to remain in Cleveland, and Cabot expects both him and Hooper to still be Browns once the deadline has passed.

Speaking of Mayfield, Cabot says the No. 1 overall pick of the 2018 draft will likely require offseason surgery on his injured shoulder. His injury has complicated extension talks, and now, if an extension is reached, it probably won’t happen until after the season. Mayfield is under club control through 2022 via the fifth-year option of his rookie deal, which the Browns exercised earlier this year.

In related news, Cleveland does have starting RT Jack Conklin back in action for today’s critical matchup with the Steelers. Conklin had missed the prior two games with a knee injury.

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.

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.