Atlanta Falcons tight end Austin Hooper is set to hit the open market this offseason and sign a lucrative contract, and it may not take long for him to find a new team. On Monday afternoon just after the beginning of the league's legal tampering period, ESPN's Jeremy Fowler reported that the Cleveland Browns were closing in on a deal to make Hooper the game's highest-paid tight end. According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, Hooper's deal will re-set the tight end market in guaranteed money and average per year. He will reportedly make $23 million -- all guaranteed -- over the first two seasons, and then $10.5 million per year over the four total years.
In 2019, Hooper put up career numbers despite missing three games due to injury. The former third-round pick caught 75 passes for 787 yards and six touchdowns -- posting some of the best per-game numbers in the league at the position. He's improved in each of his four seasons, and the biggest free-agent contracts tend to go to the youthful players who just completed their rookie contract.
The Falcons knew that Hooper was expecting to sign a large contract this offseason, so they were going to allow him to test free agency. Last month, Hooper eventhat he would be playing somewhere other than Atlanta in 2020.
"I'm definitely leaning Cleveland," Hooper said on Monday afternoon, per ESPN's Adam Schefter. "Unless something comes up unexpected, then no question Cleveland is the leader."
One has to wonder what's next for tight end David Njoku, who was drafted by Cleveland in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. The Browns are entering a new era with Kevin Stefanski at the helm, so it remains to be seen if he would like to run an intriguing two tight end set or perhaps trade Njoku for another important roster piece.