The Washington Redskins will reportedly have "strong interest" in Pro Bowl tight end Austin Hooper when he becomes an unrestricted free agent March 18.
The Chicago Bears are "planning to pursue" the 25-year-old Stanford product, though they are viewed as a "long shot" because of salary-cap considerations, per Jason Lieser of the Chicago Sun-Times. ESPN's Rob Demovsky reported the Green Bay Packers also plan to "make a run" at him.
Hooper enjoyed a career-best season in 2019 to hit free agency at the perfect time. He set new career highs with 75 catches (fifth among NFL tight ends), 787 receiving yards (sixth) and six touchdowns (fourth) in 13 games, the lowest number of appearances in his four years with the Falcons.
In December, the California native explained he wanted to remain in Atlanta if possible.
"I obviously would like to be here," Hooper said. "I'm open to coming back here. 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. So, I'm going to let my representation and the representation of the Falcons handle that."
The odds of a Falcons reunion once he hits free agency are low, though. The team ranks 30th in projected cap space heading into the new league year at $4.5 million, according to Spotrac.
Atlanta would need to make several major moves to create enough financial flexibility to keep Hooper, who could field offers of up to $12 million annually, per Lieser.
That opens the door for the Redskins, Bears, Packers and other tight-end needy teams like the New England Patriots to make a push for the market's top available player at the position.
In Washington's case, it's looking for a new tight end with Vernon Davis set to become a free agent and Jordan Reed released last week. It leaves the team with no proven options at the position for 2020.
The Packers have Jimmy Graham, who made just 38 catches in 16 games last season, under contract for next season with an $11.7 million cap hit. He's a release candidate, however, especially if the front office is able to acquire a high-end replacement like Hooper.
All told, the market for the two-time Pro Bowl selection is quickly shaping up to become one of the most active next month.