The NFL's official free agent tampering period began today and, as Profootballtalk.com reported, "It didn’t take long for Austin Hooper
to strike it rich. ..." Cleveland has agreed to terms with tight end Austin Hooper
, according to multiple reports.
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reports Hooper's deal is for four years and is worth $44 million -- making him the highest-paid tight end in the NFL. Hooper also receives $23 million guaranteed over the first two years of the deal.
Of course, nothing is official until the signing period opens on Wednesday.
In fact, Hooper told ESPN's Adam Schefter that he is "definitely leaning Cleveland."
"Unless something comes up unexpected, then no question Cleveland is the leader," Hooper told Schefter.
Fowler also reports that the Browns are the clear leader to land Hooper.
Hooper, who turned 25 in November, is coming off his best NFL season with 75 catches for 787 yards and six touchdowns in 2019. He posted those numbers despite missing three games with an MCL sprain.
Through the first eight games, Hooper was fifth in the league among all receivers with 52 catches, only behind Michael Thomas
, DeAndre Hopkins
, Cooper Kupp
, and Julian Edelman
The Falcons saw the potential in Hooper when they drafted him in the third round of the 2016 draft out of Stanford. He developed into a serious threat under the tutelage of former tight ends coach Wade Harman and thrived in former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's system.
Through four seasons and 59 career games, Hooper has caught 214 passes for 2,244 yards with 16 touchdowns and 105 first downs on 274 targets. He had just one drop on 97 targets last season. Over the last three seasons, he leads all tight ends with a 77.3 percent catch percentage.
According to USA Today's Doug Farrar, this has the chance to really work for the Cleveland Browns.
Farrar went on to explain that Hooper has struggled to win one-on-one matchups during his time with the Falcons, but with Odell Beckham
Jr. and Jarvis Landry
on the field, he will have weapons around him, similar to the environment he was in with the Falcons and having Julio Jones
on the outside.
New head coach Kevin Stefanski knows how to use the tight end position in the passing game and off of play-action, so this seems to be an ideal fit.
As to what this means for Browns tight end David Njoku
, Farrar pointed out the Vikings lined up in “12” personnel (one running back, two tight ends) on 35 percent of their offensive snaps last season, the second-highest total in the league.
Stefanski ran that offense with Gary Kubiak, so the Hooper signing could be a precursor to that.
Also in Cleveland. ... The Browns reached agreement with Case Keenum
on a three-year, $18 million deal that includes $10 million guaranteed, a source tells ESPN's Adam Schefter. Reported by ESPN.com
Keenum will be reunited with his former Vikings quarterbacks Stefanski.
According to Cleveland Plain Dealer staffer Mary Kay Cabot, the Browns were seeking a new vibe in their quarterback room, and Keenum is be the ideal backup for Baker Mayfield
With Stefanski as his QB coach in 2017, Keenum, 32, guided the Vikings to an 11-3 mark and a victory over the Saints in the divisional round before a loss to Philadelphia in the NFC Championship Game. Keenum has thrown for 14,368 yards with 75 touchdowns and 47 interceptions with a career passer rating of 85.3. He’d provide Mayfield with an experienced backup who could help implement Stefanski’s system.
With Stefanski as his coach, Keenum completed 67.6 percent of his passes and earned a 98.3 passer rating. He threw 22 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. Keenum recorded eight games with a 100-plus passer rating to tie for second-most in team history in a season and tied a team record with 10 games without an interception. ...
Meanwhile, with Hooper headed out of town and veteran tight end Luke Stocker
also released today, the Falcons swung a trade for a replacement.
The Falcons acquired tight Hayden Hurst
and a 2020 fourth-round pick from the Baltimore Ravens in exchange for 2020 second- and fifth-round selections
The Falcons' second-round pick is No. 55, which came from the Mohamed Sanu
trade with New England. Baltimore will flip the fifth-round pick to Jacksonville as a part of the trade for Calais Campbell.
Hurst, a 2018 first-round pick, had yet to bust out in Baltimore, compiling 43 receptions and 512 yards with three TDs the past two seasons. With a deep tight-end group that includes Mark Andrews
and Nick Boyle
, the Ravens shipped out Hurst for draft picks.
Without a starting-caliber TE competition in Atlanta, perhaps steady playing time can coax more production out of Hurst, who turns 27 years old before his third NFL season.
Also in Atlanta. ... The Falcons are releasing two-time Pro Bowl running back Devonta Freeman
with three years and $21 million remaining on his contract.
The move saves $3.5 million against the 2020 salary cap ahead of free agency, with the Falcons lacking cap space. It leaves $6 million in dead money.
The Falcons hinted at the move, which was first reported by NFL Network, when head coach Dan Quinn
did not fully commit to Freeman as the primary back during a postseason news conference. Then owner Arthur Blank told ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure that, although he loved what Freeman brought to the team, the Falcons had to be mindful of the salary cap not being "unlimited" while making crucial roster decisions.
The Falcons also released offensive lineman Ty Sambrailo
on Monday. Sambrailo appeared in 44 games for the Falcons after they traded for him from the Denver Broncos at the start of the 2017 season. Releasing Sambrailo saves $3,718,750 against the cap.
Atlanta, with pressing needs along the offensive and defensive lines, likely will have to address the running back void via the draft or free agency. They have drafted a running back each of the past three years, with Qadree Ollison
(fifth round), Ito Smith
(fourth) and Brian Hill
Ollison and Smith remain under contract, while Hill is scheduled to become a free agent. The last significant free-agent running back the Falcons signed was three-time Pro Bowler Steven Jackson
The Falcons reportedly had discussions with the Detroit Lions regarding Freeman before last season's trade deadline, although nothing materialized. Now that the sides are parting ways, Freeman's representation firmly believes he will "land on his feet" elsewhere despite a strong desire to remain in Atlanta.
Freeman, 28, was a fourth-round draft pick of the Falcons in 2014 out of Florida State. In 77 games with the Falcons, he accumulated 5,987 yards from scrimmage on 1,208 touches with 3,972 rushing yards, 2,015 receiving yards and 43 total touchdowns.
In Minnesota. ... The Vikings are sticking with quarterback Kirk Cousins
, agreeing on a two-year contract extension, according to his agent.
Terms of the deal were not immediately available.
Cousins was heading into the final year of the three-year, fully guaranteed $84 million contract he received from the Vikings in March 2018.
After signing that deal, Cousins went under the microscope, with criticism of his big-game play cropping up. But Cousins silenced some of the critics last season. In the regular season, he had 26 touchdown passes and only six interceptions. He had a career-high 107.4 passer rating.
He then led the Vikings to an upset of the Saints in the wild-card round before Minnesota fell to San Francisco in the divisional round. ...
In Las Vegas. ... Raiders GM Mike Mayock's No. 1-ranked QB in his NFL Network coverage
leading up to the 2015 Draft is now on his roster.
According to Vincent Bonsignore of the Las Vegas Review Journal, the Raiders have agreed to terms with Marcus Mariota
The Raiders were looking to upgrade behind Derek Carr
, with Mariota getting a chance at more than that in case of injury or ineffectiveness.
Mariota, 26, lost his starting job to Ryan Tannehill
last season. In five seasons in Tennessee, Mariota made 61 starts and went 29-32. He threw for 13,207 yards with 76 touchdowns and 44 interceptions. His career passer rating is 89.6. ...
As PFT summed up: "Mariota now has a chance to do to Carr this year what Tannehill did to Mariota last year. ..."
In Chicago. ... Jimmy Graham
is heading to the Bears on a two-year, $16 million deal, including $9 million guaranteed, a source told Schefter.
The Packers released Graham last Thursday, paving the way for him to move on to his next stop.
Graham, who turned 33 in November, ranked as the highest-paid tight end in the NFL with an average salary of $10 million and was scheduled to take up the second-most salary-cap space in 2020 of any tight end in the league. Now he'll make slightly less. Graham wasn't a huge factor last season with just 38 catches for 447 yards and three touchdowns.
In his two seasons with the Packers, he scored just five touchdowns -- half of what he scored in his final season with the Seattle Seahawks in 2017. With Trey Burton
a disappointment, there's room for Graham to chisel out a contributing role here. ...
In Baltimore. ... The Ravens announced they have tendered exclusive rights free agent Gus Edwards
The 24-year old will get a one-year deal worth $660,000.
Edwards had 140 touches for 756 yards and scored two touchdowns in 2019. He signed with the Ravens as an undrafted free agent out of Rutgers in 2018. The team waived him out of the preseason. Edwards signed with the Ravens’ practice squad and was promoted to the active roster and starting by the end of his rookie season. He signed as an exclusive rights free agent a year ago, too.
In Dallas. ... The Cowboys are signing tight end Blake Jarwin
to a three-year extension worth up to $24.25 million. According to NFL Network's Rapoport and Mike Garafolo, Jarwin gets $9.25 million guaranteed.
As Fansided.com's Lucas Mascherin noted last week, while he hasn’t had that many snaps, Jarwin has shown he is productive when given the opportunity.
There was only one game in 2019 where he played more than 50 percent of the snaps. Within the limited snaps, he managed to catch 31 passes for 365 yards and three touchdowns. With that is an average of 11.77 yards per reception. With those kinds of stats, while playing within the 45 to 35 percent range of snaps, you can expect him to eclipse 600 yards with ease. While he is a tight end, Jarwin has shown that he can catch the ball, shown by his 75.6 percent catching percentage.
Between that and his route-running, he can be a great offensive threat against any team -- especially with the Cowboys set to move past Jason Witten
A few final notes. ... The Cowboys placed the exclusive franchise tag on Dak Prescott
at the start of the legal tampering period, keeping the quarterback from entertaining other suitors and ensuring he'll be under team control for 2020.
Prescott can play under the tag in 2020, making an average of the top five salaries at the quarterback position, but his future isn't entirely secure. The tag can also buy the Cowboys the time necessary to hammer out a long-term deal, something Dallas wasn't able to do with Prescott between the end of a disappointing 2019 season and the start of the new league year.
In addition, the Bengals informed A.J. Green
they're placing their franchise tag on him. It’s been the expectation for some time that the Bengals wouldn’t let Green hit the open market as a free agent, so there’s little surprise here. Green said earlier in the offseason that the tag wasn’t the best thing, but added that he wouldn’t turn down the $18 million or so in salary that comes with it.
The Titans placed their franchise tag on Derrick Henry
. This one was easy to see coming. Henry led the league in rushing yards in 2019, then followed that by leading all postseason rushers, too, carrying the ball 83 times for 446 yards and two touchdowns and powering the Titans to two upset playoff wins.
And finally. ... The Cardinals want to keep Kenyan Drake
-- and they took a step Monday morning to help make that happen. The team applied the transition tag to Drake, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on Wednesday.
Beyond that, they traded David Johnson
to the Texans in exchange for DeAndre Hopkins
, clearing Drake's path to a clear workload. That's good news for fantasy owners.