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Austin Hooper signs with Cleveland Browns

Cleveland lands the top tight end available in free agency.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Minnesota Vikings Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

Austin Hooper had many suitors, but the Browns led the way, signing him to a four-year deal worth $44 million. The Browns once again have been big players in free agency this season, but expectations may still be lower than last season, as many expected the Browns to make a big move in 2019.

We could be looking at one of the biggest free agency periods in recent memory if some of the notable names actually hit the open market. Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Derrick Henry are just a few of the big names set to hit unrestricted free agency when the new league year opens on March 18th. One or more stands a good chance of signing a contract with their current team before then, but there is a chance one or more is taking calls when the tampering period opens on March 16th.

2019 in review

Austin Hooper was one of the best DFS values out of the gate this season, putting up tremendous numbers in the early going. While injuries eventually caught up to him and limited him to 13 games, it was still a career-year for Hooper. The tight end secured 75-of-97 targets for 787 yards and six touchdowns — all marking career-highs. The market for Hooper will be there, so if Atlanta wants to retain him, it’s taking a risk.

Possible destinations

TE is constantly a position that’s down across the league, so a talented pass-catcher coming off a career season will be an asset in free agency. The first team that jumps to mind with a major need at TE is the New England Patriots. The first Gronk-less year in New England went as poorly as you’d imagine, with the team never really addressing the position. The trio of Benjamin Watson, Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo combined for just 36 receptions for 418 yards and two touchdowns. That’s not going to cut it. Hooper would immediately become one of Tom Brady’s go-to-guys, assuming the GOAT stays put in free agency himself.

The Chicago Bears and Dallas Cowboys are a couple of other prestigious teams that got significantly less production than they hoped for from TE in 2019. Both big market franchises would presumably be willing to spend on one of the top free agents at a crucial position of need.

Do the Falcons want to keep him?

The team announced that Hooper will hit the market to see where his value is at, which suggests he will not be given the franchise tag. It’s possible that changes leading up to free agency, but it’s a curious decision given how much Hooper contributes to the offense. It also makes it difficult to assess just how badly the Falcons want to retain him.

Fantasy implications

Hooper averaged 15.2 DKFP in 2019, and that was while battling injuries as the season went on. This is a top tier fantasy TE that will become a huge part of whatever offense he lands in. As long as Hooper’s healthy, or doesn’t land with a complete stiff at QB, it’s highly likely he’ll be a top-five fantasy play at his position. The real impact here would be if Hooper actually limits the fantasy value of any of the weapons around him, pending his destination.

Rumored interest

The news on Hooper potentially leaving Atlanta is both fresh, and somewhat surprising, so there aren’t all that many rumors surrounding him. The immediate push from local media outlets indicates that the Patriots and Bears are two teams that should make a push for Hooper We also have to keep in mind, the Falcons could still retain Hooper in one of a couple ways, meaning staying put could still be the most likely option.

Green Bay Packers

The Packers are “intent on adding on a pass-catcher both in free agency and the draft and plan to make a run at Falcons free-agent TE Austin Hooper” according to ESPN’s Rob Demovsky.

Packers, Browns, Washington

The Packers, Browns and Washington are all in on Austin Hooper, per Jonathan Jones of CBS Sports. With Hunter Henry tagged and no other solid tight ends available, Hoopers market looks strong. The Browns have emerged as the likely front-runner.