Free agent tight end Austin Hooper is reportedly heading to the Cleveland Browns in a deal that will make him the highest-paid tight end in the NFL, according to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network. The deal is reportedly worth $44 million over 4 years, with $23 million guaranteed.
Hooper spent the first four years of his NFL career with the Atlanta Falcons and has totaled 2,244 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns. He has improved his numbers in each of his four years as a pro. Last season, Hooper set career highs in catches (75), receiving yards (787), and touchdowns (6).
Is Austin Hooper worthy of the highest salary for a tight end?
When NFL fans debate who the best tight end in the league is, a seldom few would probably mention Hooper. Travis Kelce, George Kittle, and Zach Ertz dominate that argument.
However, Hooper is just 25 years old and has improved every season of his young career. In just 13 games last year, Hooper finished in the top six among tight ends in receptions, yards, and touchdowns.
Hooper has also been one of the most reliable pass-catchers in the NFL over the past few seasons. He has reeled in 93.8 percent of his catchable targets and 59 percent of his contested targets over the last two seasons. Both rank second in the league among tight ends.
Hooper gives Baker Mayfield an elite red zone weapon
Austin Hooper immediately adds another dimension to the Browns’ offense. Hooper was one of the most productive tight ends last season, especially in the red zone.
Hooper caught 10 passes in the red zone last year, which was the third-most of any tight end in the NFL. He actually was a bit unlucky to only catch six touchdown passes with the volume of targets he received near the end zone. Expect that number to rise in 2020.
As for the Browns, they struggled to score inside the red zone last season. Cleveland scored a touchdown on just 58 percent of its red zone trips in 2019, a drop of almost 10 percent from 2018.
Browns fans surely remember the eight consecutive failed plays from the 1-yard-line against the Buffalo Bills last season. Hooper will give Cleveland the reliable red zone target it lacked in 2019.
How good can the Browns offense be in 2020?
Cleveland has all the firepower to become one of the most electrifying offenses in the NFL this season. Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry are a lethal duo out wide. Nick Chubb is one of the best young running backs in the league. Kareem Hunt won a rushing title just two years ago.
Now, Hooper gives them the red zone target they desperately needed to take the next step toward becoming a contender. The Browns were in the bottom half of the league in yards per game last year, but Hooper gives them every opportunity to jump to the top of the NFL in 2020.
If Baker Mayfield can find his weapons efficiently and cut down on his turnovers, the sky is the limit for this offensive group. Hooper can and will live up to his new contract if Mayfield gives him the chance.