The Cleveland Browns landed a big fish in free agency, inking former Atlanta Falcons tight end Austin Hooper to the richest tight end deal in the NFL.
While the money (four years, $42 million) was no doubt enticing for Hooper, the former third-round pick revealed to reporters during a conference call that quarterback Baker Mayfield played a big part in why he came to Cleveland.
Hooper recalled a game where the Browns got the best of his former Falcons squad in 2018 when Mayfield was a rookie. The Heisman winner hit on 17 of 20 attempts for 216 yards, with three touchdowns.
“No question, being in a position that is dependent upon getting balls from the quarterback, it was definitely a part of the process for me,’’ Hooper said, per Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com “Playing against Baker Mayfield live, seeing his arm and seeing his competitive spirit and the way he rallies the guys around him, that is what sold me on him before I was obviously a free agent.
“This was two seasons ago now when we came up to Cleveland. I knew what he was about for a couple of years now so when the opportunity presented itself on the first day of legal tampering, I couldn’t turn it down.”
Austin Hooper Ready to Thrive in Browns Offense
Hooper set career highs last season with 75 receptions, 787 receiving yards, and six touchdowns, despite playing in 13 games.
New Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski was previously the offensive coordinator with the Minnesota Vikings, utilizing two tight end sets often. Stefanski’s offense used “12 personnel” a league-high 57 percent of the snaps according to ESPN Stats and Info. With Hooper and former first-round pick David Njoku, the Browns have two high-level pass-catchers at the position.
“I’m a pro tight end. It creates matchup problems,” Hooper said. “Every defense in the NFL runs nickel, meaning five DBs on the field. If you have 12 on the field and they go nickel, the general rule of thumb is they don’t have enough big guys to compete, so you run the ball. If they go bigger, generally a less athletic linebacker out there compared to a slot-corner, then you throw the ball and you have more advantageous matchups in the passing game. … That’s kind of been the historical advantages of 12. That’s all the game of football is – matchups.”
Hooper Expect to ‘Play Off’ David Njoku
The signing of Hooper put Njoku’s presence on the roster in the spotlight. Njoku — 29th overall pick in 2017 — has come up in multiple trade rumors this offseason after a miserable campaign. He caught just five balls for 41 yards and a touchdown last year.
However, Njoku is a physical specimen at 6-foot-4, 246 pounds with 4.6 40-yard dash speed. Before his down year, Njoku notched 56 catches for 639 yards and four touchdowns, showing off the kind of potential he has to be an impact player.
Hooper believes the pairing with Njoku will be a lethal one for the Browns and they can learn to work together.
“When this whole situation comes to pass, I will get to know David a lot better,” Hooper said. “I will get to understand my role within the offense a lot better and see how we both can play off each other and how we both can complement each other.”
Njoku shared a similar sentiment after the signing hit the news.
“Nahhhh man cmon I love competition,” Njoku wrote on Twitter, responding to a tweet speculating that he would want a trade more than ever. “We’ll push each other and get better together.”
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