Browns Make Final Decision on Future of Austin Hooper

Austin Hooper

Getty Images Browns TE Austin Hooper.

The Cleveland Browns decided to use the franchise tag on David Njoku on Monday but the move will not affect the future of his tight end teammate Austin Hooper.

The Browns will pay Njoku just under $11 million with the franchise tag next season and Hooper is due a salary of $9.5 million as part of the four-year deal he signed two offseasons ago. That’s a lot of money to commit to the tight end position, but it makes sense for the Browns, who utilize multiple tight-end sets the majority of the time.

ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported the news that Hooper is expected to stay on board in Cleveland.

Hooper was one of the first big free agent splashes under general manager Andrew Berry but it has failed to make the impact that was expected. Hooper made back-to-back Pro Bowls before inking a deal with the Browns but has not been able to match his production from his time in Atlanta. Hooper caught 75 balls for 787 yards and six touchdowns during a 2019 Pro Bowl campaign in which he played just 13 games. In two seasons in Cleveland he’s caught just 84 balls for 780 yards and seven touchdowns.

Hooper was stoked last season when asked about the Browns rolling with 13 personnel more often, which includes Njoku and Harrison Bryant.

“It is awesome. We can get all of the boys on the field competing, working with each other, rooting for each other and watching each other have success,” Hooper said. “That is always good. We love it.”

Quite the Route to Franchise Tag for Njoku

Andrew Berry 2022 NFL Combine Press ConferenceExecutive Vice President, Football Operations & General Manager Andrew Berry addressed the media at the 2022 NFL Combine. Andrew discusses his evaluation of the Browns, Baker Mayfield's progress following his surgery and what to expect from this year's prospects at the combine.2022-03-01T20:14:03Z

Njoku getting the franchise tag and working towards a long-term deal would have been hard to imagine a few seasons ago, when he demanded a trade, which the Browns rebuffed. It worked out for Njoku, who changed agents and has expressed in interest in staying in Cleveland for the long-haul.

“I love it here. I love it here to the core,” Njoku on January 10. “I honestly want to be here for the rest of my career, so my agent and the Browns are still in talks, we’re still negotiating, figuring out what we can do, and we’ll go from there.”

Njoku has also impressed the Browns brass, who have been working hard on keeping him in orange and brown.

“He’s come a long way, both on and off the field,” Berry said last week at the NFL Combine. “That’s a credit to him and how hard he worked. David as a player is 25 years old, and I think he’s close to maturity. I think as his opportunities increase, his impact will as well.”

Njoku’s Production Has Fluctuated

Njoku was a first-round pick of the Browns in 2017 and has had an uneven career in Cleveland. He totaled more than 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns through his first two seasons combined but saw his production fall off a cliff under Freddie Kitchens. He played in just four games, notching just five catches for 41 yards.

Njoku has since found his groove with Stefanski at the helm, with his raw athleticism making him a serious vertical threat and mismatch in the passing game. He’s also worked hard to become a better blocker, earning the respect of his coaches.

“I think the tape speaks for itself,” Stefanski said in January after the season was over. “He has grown as a professional. He is still a young man so he is continuing to grow as a person, as well. I am really pleased with where he is.”

The Browns also tendered three exclusive rights free agents on Monday: WR Ja’Marcus Bradley, G Michael Dunn and OL Blake Hance.

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