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Could the Falcons replace Austin Hooper with Hunter Henry if they can’t get a deal done?

An interesting rumor to keep in your back pocket as negotiations (or a lack thereof) grind on.

San Diego Chargers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Austin Hooper will hopefully be an Atlanta Falcon when free agency opens. The team has ample time to get negotiations done, and Hooper remains a player who makes this offense better. Period.

It’s not a lock, though, as both the team’s and Hooper’s rhetoric to this point have indicated. If that’s the case, Atlanta has to think about alternatives, whether that’s dipping into a fairly thin tight end class in the draft or trying to snag a veteran.

Perhaps the most intriguing possibility is the prospect of adding Hunter Henry, a player the Falcons had expressed some interest in ahead of the 2016 NFL Draft. Henry is a legitimate talent, a guy who has averaged 12.6 yards per reception for his career and can kill you downfield as well as on short receptions, but has struggled to stay healthy to the point where he’s played in just 41 games in four seasons. For all the questions about his health, he’s extremely troublesome to defend when he’s actually on the field.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s D. Orlando Ledbetter sat down with our own Jeanna Thomas and others at SB Nation during Super Bowl week for a far-ranging interview, but perhaps the most intriguing tidbit was that he had “seen this a couple places or heard it” that the Falcons could target Henry to replace Hooper. That seems like an odd addition on paper because of Henry’s durability, but if you’re planning on a larger role for Jaeden Graham and you are either keeping Luke Stocker or planning to add a blocking tight end, you can afford to ease up on Henry’s snaps a little bit and still collect the benefits of his pass catching acumen.

The downsides are obvious, though. Henry still has yet to play in 16 games, whereas Hooper has been durable, extremely consistent at what he does, and well-rounded. If you spend (and I am spitballing here, but bear with me) $6 million a year on Henry but you only get 10 games out of him, is that really a better deal than ponying up for what Hooper and his camp want? Probably not. Hooper’s also gotten better every single year he’s played for Atlanta, whereas Henry’s numbers have stayed pretty stagnant, notes about sample sizes aside.

This feels unlikely for many reasons—Henry isn’t likely to be cheap, for one—but it’s something to file away if we don’t start hearing traction in talks between the Falcons and Hooper.