Former Atlanta Falcon tight end Austin Hooper has signed a lucrative contract with the Cleveland Browns worth reportedly $10-$11 million per season.

This deal comes as Cleveland’s first free-agent signing and the first free-agent signing of 2020.

Hooper had been a good servant for the Atlanta Falcons over the years, amassing 2244 total yards, 16 TDs, 214 rec. off of 277 targets with an average yards per reception rate of 10.5 – good numbers. But not highest paid TE in the NFL type numbers.

For comparison, George Kittle, who is soon to be the next highest-paid TE after Hooper, has totalled 2945 yards, 12 TDs and 216 rec. with an average yards per reception of 13.5 in only two seasons in the NFL, compared to Hooper’s four.

Nobody is saying Hooper is better than George Kittle, or even comparing the two, and the market is trending upwards, but when you’re paid ‘best TE in the league type money’, then you better play like the best TE in the league. Hooper isn’t even in the same ballpark as George Kittle or Travis Kelce. He’s even a step behind Zach Ertz.

       

Cleveland’s willingness to pay Hooper’s enormous price tag means that first-year head coach Kevin Stefanski wanted Hooper badly.

In the modern NFL, TE’s are incredibly valuable as they can present all sorts of mismatch opportunities in the passing game. Too quick for linebackers and too big for defensive backs, TEs are quickly becoming an integral part of a modern, prolific offence. Just look at this year’s two Super Bowl teams; San Francisco and Kansas City boast the two best TEs in the league.

In order to get a better idea of how Hooper will be utilised in Stefanki’s Browns offence, let’s take a look at how Minnesota used their TEs last season.

Minnesota TE Kyle Rudolph recorded 39 receptions last year for 367 yards and 6 TDs. Rudolph did split snaps with rookie Irv Smith Jr. who recorded 36 receptions for 311 yards and 2 TDs. Rudolph and Smith Jr.’s reception total combined comes to 75, the exact same number of receptions that Hooper acquired in 2019.

So it’s pretty clear that Hooper’s usage rate will either stay the same or increase. Whether or not Stefanski utilises two-TE sets in Cleveland is unclear yet. Hooper and David Njoku on the field together could pose a threat to opposing defences. However, with Njoku’s injury troubles and being in the final year of his contract, this could be the writing on the wall for the former TE1 in Cleveland.

Hooper’s price tag will certainly raise eyebrows, as it has every right to do, and Hooper himself may not play to the standard worth his paycheck. However, Stefanski got his guy and at the end of the day, that is what matters the most to head coaches.

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