Falcons to allow Austin Hooper to hit the open market: 'Told me to hit the road'

Austin Hooper of the Atlanta Falcons has been one of the best tight ends in the league over the past few years, and he's set to hit free agency this offseason. On Tuesday morning, Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported that the Falcons were going to allow Hooper to test free agency. Later that night, the two-time Pro Bowler dropped a comment on social media that indicated he would be playing for a team other than the Falcons in 2020.

Hooper posted a picture on Instagram of him appearing to wave to the home crowd in Atlanta unaccompanied by a caption. Another Instagram user commented, pleading with Hooper to re-sign with the Falcons, but Hooper responded saying the Falcons "told me to hit the road lol not up to me."

Hooper later turned off comments on his post, but screenshots had already made their rounds on social media.

While nothing is official, it's possible the Falcons informed Hooper that he should head for greener pastures. According to Spotrac, one of the leading providers of NFL contract and salary cap information, the Falcons currently have less than $5 million in cap space, which is the third lowest in the league.

Hooper found success at Stanford University, and was drafted by the Falcons in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft. While he recorded just 19 receptions in his rookie season, Hooper has improved each year. Despite playing in just 13 games last year, Hooper set career highs with 75 catches for 787 yards and six touchdowns.

Hooper is set to become one of the highest-paid tight ends in the league. According to Spotrac's calculated market value, Hooper could receive a five-year deal worth nearly $50 million which will include an average annual salary of $9.9 million. That would surpass the deals Travis Kelce, Jordan Reed and Zach Ertz signed over the past few years, but would still come shy of Jimmy Graham's average of $10 million per year.

In 59 regular-season games, Hooper has caught 214 passes for 2,244 yards and 16 touchdowns. He's sure to generate plenty of interest on the open market, as he just turned 25 last October. 

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