Falcons training camp is underway. That means we have actual news to convey to you! Exciting! It’s also time for the annual “running of takes,” where much like the running of the bulls in Pamplona, every Falcons fan and observer under the sun trips over themselves to say something really clever about the state of the franchise. One such take I’ve seen floated recently is this idea that veteran wide receiver Mohamed Sanu and franchise tight end Austin Hooper are somehow bound to occupy the same spot on offense and in the Falcons budget. That if there’s a reason Sanu doesn’t find himself back in Atlanta in 2020 and beyond, it’s not going to be Austin Hooper in the direct sense, but his presence and contributions to the offense (and the need to pay him) certainly won’t hurt.
Let’s start by looking at their contract situations, because this is how those that advance this theory usually start their sell. Given the flurry of financial moves the Falcons have made and need to make recently, money is going to be tight for the foreseeable future. Hooper is under contract only through the conclusion of this season. As one of the NFL’s best young tight ends, one would think he is in line for a substantial pay day. While I can’t envision any scenario where Hooper sniffs Jimmy Graham money, it isn’t crazy to put his market value at somewhere between $5-7 million. (Eric Ebron and Hunter Henry will also hit the market in 2020, so depending on the timing of their deals, they could help establish Hooper’s true value.)
Enter Sanu’s contract. Sanu is under contract through the end of next season. And the Falcons can save $6.5 million by cutting Mo after this season. In short, take the money (or most of it) that you were going to pay Mo in 2020 and give it to Hooper. Done and done, right? But wait. This only makes sense inasmuch as it affects the product on the field. If the product on the field isn’t as good, that matters, doesn’t it? That makes what may be a mathematically sound move less attractive.
So this boils down to one central inquiry: do the Falcons need both Mo and Hooper in 2020? And this is where rival factions are apt to disagree. In my mind, both men are valuable contributors on offense and the Falcons would benefit from keeping both under contract in 2020. Why? Because Mo, in spite of his age, will likely still be a valuable asset in 2020.
So how does Mo measure up as an asset at this point in his career? Let’s start with the obvious. There’s no way you’d ever ask Hooper to line up under center as a gadget QB, is there? Point proven; everyone stop reading and go back to your productive lives. Seriously though, the last time I checked, while Hooper is improving, he doesn’t run an out route like Mo. And when did we suddenly forget that Mo is widely recognized as one of the most sure-handed receivers in the NFL? In three seasons with the Falcons, he’s dropped 4 percent of his catchable targets (8 of 200). Let’s be honest, Hooper’s hands, while good, aren’t there yet. (Hooper dropped 2.7 percent of his passes in 2018, while Mo dropped 1.5 percent of his.) Mo is incredibly talented at making contested catches. Anyone who has seen the man play football can attest to this fact. The Falcons have relied on Mo heavily in the slot in the past. And even with the addition of Calvin Ridley, Mo’s contributions in the slot aren’t something you relinquish voluntarily, or at least without thoughtful consideration. Did I mention the fact that Mo was the Falcons’ 4th highest rated player during the fourth quarter last season? He’s still an incredibly “clutch” football player.
Mo could regress substantially in 2019 and make me look like a fool for adopting what should be a lukewarm take at best. But if he essentially replicates his first three seasons in Atlanta, there’s no reason the Falcons should haphazardly part ways in 2020. So let’s stop selling Mo’s farewell tour like it’s a foregone conclusion, because it undoubtedly isn’t.