Browns Rumors: Austin Hooper Agrees to Contract to Be NFL's Highest-Paid TE

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 16, 2020

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 20: Austin Hooper #81 of the Atlanta Falcons takes the field prior to a game against the Los Angeles Rams at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on October 20, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Austin Hooper and the Cleveland Browns reportedly reached an agreement Monday on a contract that will make him the league's highest-paid tight end

Ian Rapoport, Tom Pelissero and Mike Silver of NFL Network reported the agreement. Albert Breer of The MMQB later reported Hooper signed a four-year, $42 million contract with the Browns. Per Breer, the 25-year-old is owed $23 million over the first two years of the deal, all of which is fully guaranteed.

Hooper is coming off the best statistical season of his four-year career since the Atlanta Falcons selected him in the third round of the 2016 draft. The Stanford product set career highs in receptions (75), receiving yards (787) and touchdowns (six) despite playing in only 13 games. He missed three games after spraining his MCL. 

The jump in numbers, which came after Hooper's first Pro Bowl appearance in 2018, came at a perfect time as he got ready to head into free agency. But following the regular season, he told reporters that he preferred to return to Atlanta: "I'm not going to speak on that too much. It's a business. I'm open to coming back here. I don't know. ... I haven't received an offer yet. If I do, I'd definitely like to be here, but at the same time, it's a business. I'm going to let my representation and the representation for the Falcons handle that."

The repeat Pro Bowler leads all tight ends in catch percentage (77.3) among those who have tallied at least 50 catches over the past four years, per Pro Football Reference. He's also missed only five games since 2016, and he played all 16 games both in 2017 and 2018.

The 6'4", 254-pound California native also proved proficient in splitting out into the slot to help create matchup problems, especially on third down and in other obvious passing situations, which adds to his value. Nearly one-third (32.5 percent) of his snaps last season came from the slot, according to Player Profiler.

The whole package made him the best tight end hitting the open market in 2020.

Losing Hooper is a major setback for the Falcons offense. Atlanta's passing game was one of the few aspects of the team that was consistently strong during its 7-9 season in 2019. The Matt Ryan-led group ranked third in passing yards (294.6 per game) and eighth in passing touchdowns (29).

Now the emerging star tight end will join Baker Mayfield, Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry and Nick Chubb with the Browns, and he's a strong bet to continue his upward trajectory in Cleveland.