Browns Set to Sign Former Falcons Tight End to Massive Deal: Report

Austin Hooper

getty Austin Hooper #81 of the Atlanta Falcons.

The Cleveland Browns have made their first big move of free agency, agreeing to a deal with tight end Austin Hooper that would make him the highest paid tight end in football.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported that the sides have agreed on the lucrative deal that would pair Hooper with former first-round pick David Njoku. While the deal cannot yet become official, Hooper told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that he was leaning Cleveland.

“I’m definitely leaning Cleveland. Unless something comes up unexpected, then no question Cleveland is the leader.”

According to Vaughn McClure of ESPN, the deal is for four years and $44 million. That would put Hooper just over the $10.6 million annually that Chargers tight end Hunter Henry brings in.

Hooper set career highs last season with 75 receptions, 787 receiving yards, and six touchdowns. New head coach Kevin Stefanski was previously the offensive coordinator with the Minnesota Vikings, utilizing two tight end sets often. With Njoku and Hooper, the Browns have two high-level pass-catchers at the positions.

David Njoku in Need of Bounce Back Season

GettyBrowns quarterback Baker Mayfield completes a pass to tight end David Njoku.

Last season didn’t go as planned for Njoku, who spent much of his third NFL season nursing a fractured wrist that landed him on the IR.

When Njoku finally returned to the field, he found himself in the doghouse with former Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens, who was fired shortly after the season. He battled back into the lineup in Week 14, but dropped a ball that turned into an interception, leading him to be a healthy scratch the next two weeks. He suited up for the Browns final game of the season, but played just four snaps.

Njoku — the 29th overall pick in the 2017 draft — is a physical specimen at 6-foot-4, 246 pounds with 4.6 40-yard dash speed. In his second season, Njoku essentially doubled his production in the passing game from his rookie season, collecting 56 catches for 639 yards and four touchdowns.

“I’m looking forward to working with him,” Stefanski said at the NFL Combine. “I think there’s an obvious skillset there. There’s a reason he was drafted that high. I think you can see it just in his physical ability and it’s a big year for David. I’ve explained that to him. He knows that and a lot of that is going to be up to him and the amount of work he puts into this and we have big plans for him but it’s about, for him, coming back in the building and working and then ultimately being able to see if we can utilize him in a role that can take advantage of some of his skillset.”

Njoku is in the fourth season of his rookie deal and he’ll make $1,763,910 with just $430,000 guaranteed. The Browns still have to make a decision on Njoku’s fifth-year option that would keep him around another season.

Browns Have Pieces in Place for Explosive Offense

Packers Browns Joint Practices

GettyBrowns WRs Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry

The Browns still have some work to do on the offensive line to protect Baker Mayfield — who’s entering his third NFL season — but the team has potential to possess one of the most explosive units in the league with Hooper joining names like Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry and Nick Chubb.

“Obviously, having the opportunity to put an offense together with the group of guys was very intriguing. Another reason would be the talent that has been acquired here over the years,” Alex Van Pelt said in his introductory press conference. “Obviously, the group is extremely talented, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Having the chance to work with those guys was another part of that. Then coming to the organization, the Browns have a long history as an organization and the city is another reason that I was excited to take the job.”

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