Throughout the current era of Falcons football, this team has been pretty consistent about locking up the players they think are most valuable before they have the opportunity to hit the open market. Notable examples include Ryan Schraeder, Robert Alford, Grady Jarrett (franchise tag), Julio Jones, and Devonta Freeman in recent years.
Austin Hooper and De’Vondre Campbell will not be on that list, as Thomas Dimitroff said today that both are going to be allowed to dip their toes into free agency. I don’t view that as a positive development, bluntly.
TD says it’s “imperative” to know the market value for Hooper, Campbell and Wes Schweitzer. They’ll hit the market but the Falcons are open to them returning if it were at the right price. #Falcons— Kelsey Conway (@FalconsKelsey) February 25, 2020
There’s a decent chance Schweitzer’s price is palatable to Atlanta, and there’s always the possibility that Campbell doesn’t find the hot market he’s hoping for. There’s virtually no chance that the same will be true of Hooper, who is expected to get a record-breaking deal as the top tight end expected to make it to free agency. He’s a 25-year-old two-time Pro Bowler coming off the most productive season of his career, and guys like that don’t hit free agency and get deals that a team with limited spending potential will consider “the right price.”
Considering that the Falcons are evidently planning on keeping James Carpenter, Jamon Brown, and Matt Gono around, I don’t think Schweitzer will be a priority. Considering Campbell is also pretty young and a quality player, I don’t expect him to land at a price point the Falcons are going to love, though it’ll be more manageable than Hooper. Unless Atlanta has some significant cuts on the way and have been playing coy with Hooper this entire offseason, I think it’s a virtual certainty he’s gone.
The long and short of it is that this is a tacit admission that the Falcons probably can’t or won’t re-sign the trio unless they have very cool markets awaiting them, and I doubt any of them will. The team is deep enough at guard that they can weather losing Schweitzer, but they’re extremely thin at linebacker without Campbell and not exactly set at tight end without Hooper, given that only Jaeden Graham, Luke Stocker, and Carson Meier are currently in the picture.
There’s already a ton of pressure on the Falcons to nail this offseason, and losing one of the league’s better young tight ends, a capable starting linebacker, and a useful reserve will just increase that pressure. Atlanta’s well aware of the stakes here, but they’re making calculated decisions that either they’ll get unexpectedly good deals on one or two of those players or they’ll be able to use the money they’re not spending at critical areas of need.
In what has become the refrain of this offseason already, let’s hope they get it right.