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Austin Hooper
Cincinnati Bengals

Austin Hooper’s 3 Best Free Agent Fits

  • Justin Melo
  • March 16, 2022
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According to multiple reports, the Cleveland Browns have released veteran tight end Austin Hooper from his contract. The cap-clearing move was designated as a post-June 1 release but will save the Browns nearly $10 million in salary cap relief. Hooper may sign with a new franchise of his choice immediately.

Hooper’s future in Cleveland became in doubt the second the Browns decided to franchise tag tight end David Njoku. Cleveland’s offense struggled to incorporate both Njoku and Hooper on the desired consistent basis, and they’ve now taken advantage of the opportunity to create additional financial breathing room by releasing Hooper.

Hooper now reaches the open market as one of the more intriguing dual-threat tight ends available. Hooper failed to reach the heights he achieved in Atlanta prior to signing a lucrative contract with the Browns but remains a quality player that can impact both the passing game and rushing attack. A quality pass-catcher and run blocker, plenty of NFL offenses would benefit from having Hooper on the field.

A consistent red-zone threat that’s secured 23 touchdowns in six professional seasons, it shouldn’t take long for Hooper to secure his next destination. We’ve identified three ideal fits for his desired services.

TENNESSEE TITANS

Titans general manager Jon Robinson re-signed veteran tight end Geoff Swaim to a one-year, fully guaranteed contract worth $3.5 million on Monday afternoon, but the Titans undeniably need more production at the position going forward. Swaim was joined by the likes of Anthony Firkser, Tommy Hudson, and MyCole Pruitt last season in what possibly qualified as the worst tight end room across the NFL. Both Firkser and Pruitt are unrestricted free agents, and Robinson should use their freedom as an excuse to upgrade the position. Re-signing Swaim was already an unpopular move amongst a fan base that is eager for their team to acquire a household, recognizable name at the position.

The returning Swaim secured just 31 receptions for 210 yards and three touchdowns last season. Firkser “led” the position group with 291 receiving yards. These are less-than-desirable numbers that must receive a bump in production in 2022.

Tennessee’s offense has typically prioritized employing tight ends that can both catch passes and block, partially due to the presence of superstar running back Derrick Henry. Hooper is plenty qualified in both areas, and would quickly secure a role in offensive coordinator Todd Downing’s offense. Furthermore, Titans offensive line coach Keith Carter spent time with Hooper in Atlanta. Signing Hooper also doesn’t impact the compensatory selection formula, which is something Robinson will appreciate.

CINCINNATI BENGALS

Former starting tight end C.J. Uzomah agreed to a three-year deal worth $24 million with the New York Jets on Monday afternoon. Uzomah finally broke out of his shell in 2021 by recording new career-highs in receptions (49), receiving yards (493), and touchdowns (5) while playing an extremely valuable and underrated role in Cincinnati’s high-flying offense. Uzomah’s departure upgrades a poor Jets tight end receiving unit, and leaves the Bengals with little in the form of proven production at the position. Cincinnati now has Drew Sample and not much worth mentioning behind him.

Head coach Zac Taylor demands a lot from his tight ends. It’s partially what made Uzomah such an effective player in 2021. The ability to catch, run, and block while playing multiple positions and out of multiple formations is extremely important in Cincinnati’s offense. Hooper is the type of talent that could thrive in a similar role. Uzomah undoubtedly took advantage of playing alongside the likes of Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Joe Mixon, and Tyler Boyd in Cincinnati’s efficient and high-scoring offense. Hooper is well-equipped to take similar advantage of stretched thin defenses should he land in Cincinnati.

GREEN BAY PACKERS

The Green Bay Packers took care of the biggest item of business on their offseason to-do checklist by agreeing to terms on a historic contract extension with franchise quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers’ new deal should keep him in Green Bay for the remainder of his career, and the Packers should push their chips into the middle of the table as they attempt to win more Super Bowls in the dwindling Rodgers era. Franchise-tagging Davante Adams was another crucial development for general manager Brian Gutekunst, and although long-term contract negotiations with the disgruntled Adams now loom especially large, Adams is expected to remain a Packer in 2022 and beyond.

Tight end Robert Tonyan is an unrestricted free agent and is expected to depart the Packers in search of a change of scenery after experiencing a disappointing and injury-riddled campaign this past season. The Packers undoubtedly need more behind Josiah Deguara and the aging Marcedes Lewis as Gutekunst attempts to surround Rodgers with a plethora of weapons after a disappointing and early postseason exit.

Head coach Matt LaFleur previously spent a year on the Falcons’ coaching staff when Hooper was still applying his trade in Atlanta. Signing Hooper would qualify as a shrewd addition for a franchise in need of tight ends. Hooper would immediately slot into Green Bay’s TE1 role.