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Report: Austin Hooper has deal in place with Browns, will become new highest-paid TE in NFL

Goodbye, sweet pass catching prince.

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Atlanta Falcons Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons are officially in the market for a new franchise right end. Like it or not, after 4 years in Atlanta, Austin Hooper will officially be playing for a different team next season. According to Ian Rapoport, Hooper has signed with the Browns on a deal that will make him the highest-paid tight end in the game at the moment.

This was the inevitable result of the Falcons letting him hit the open market, which was obvious to just about anybody as soon as they said it. Teams are always on the lookout for the next great tight end, and players as young, as talented, and as productive as Hooper simply don’t hit free agency all that often.

The 2016 NFL Draft seems like a distant memory these days. Things were much simpler then: the Super Bowl collapse hadn’t happened yet, TikTok didn’t exist yet, and giant pandas had dropped off the endangered species list.

As third round selections go, Hooper met and exceeded expectations. He was the first player to give the Falcons some continuity at tight end since Tony Gonzalez’s retirement.

A two-time Pro Bowler, Hooper racked up 214 receptions, 2,244 receiving yards, and 16 receiving touchdowns over 4 seasons in Atlanta. Hooper became franchise quarterback Matthew Thomas Ryan’s second favorite target, as illustrated by his 75 receptions and 6 receiving touchdowns in 2019.

In the Falcons’ defense, Hooper isn’t a player you can rely on to consistently create mismatches and it’s fair to wonder whether he’s the kind of player that ought to re-set the market for an entire position group, regardless of his production. The Falcons, looking at their cap space and their talent across the offense, decided it was not worth it to bring him back. That’s disappointing but defensible, assuming the Falcons have a plan at tight end that doesn’t stink.

Moving forward, the Falcons will need to find a way to replicate Hooper’s production. If we’re honest, that’s going to take a substantial investment, either in free agency or the draft. Hoping Jaeden Graham can suddenly transform into a top ten tight end is simply unrealistic, though he and Luke Stocker will likely be a significant part of the plan in 2020. We’ll see whether a player like David Njoku, who suddenly just became expendable in Cleveland, might be a good fit for the Falcons, or if they plan to dive into the draft.

Your thoughts, Falcoholics?

Update: Hooper signed a four-year, $44 million deal with $23 million guaranteed.