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Former Cardinal TE Austin Hooper set to see a big payday in NFL free agency

Hooper is testing free agency after the Atlanta Falcons didn’t tender an offer to the veteran tight end.

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NFL: Tennessee Titans at Atlanta Falcons Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020 version of the NFL’s legal tampering period is upon us and with that came all the decisions to slap the franchise tag on impending free agents or tender offers to restricted free agents for all 32 NFL teams. The Atlanta Falcons did not re-sign nor did they tender an offer to former Stanford Cardinal TE Austin Hooper, and he’ll hit the market as a top tight end this offseason, likely earning him some big money.

During his time at Stanford, Hooper was a John Mackey Award finalist, a multiple-time All-American and All-Pac-12 player, and amassed 937 yards on 74 catches for eight touchdowns in his two-year playing career. He left early, forgoing two years of eligibility for the Cardinal, entering the draft due to the lack of depth at the position in his draft class.

Hooper, who finished the 2019 season with 75 catches for 787 yards and six touchdowns, set career-highs across the board during his fourth season with the Falcons in 2019. He actually has seen his receptions, targets, yards and touchdowns increase in each of his four seasons since being selected with in the third round with the 81st pick of the 2016 NFL Draft. He also chipped in with 41 first-down receptions for the Falcons as he was a consistent target for QB Matt Ryan and Co. in Atlanta.

Still, general manager Thomas Dimitroff and the Falcons allowed Hooper to walk in free agency, despite perhaps some optimism that they can re-sign him during the league’s free agency period.

“We’ve talked to them (Hooper, De’Vondre Campbell, Wes Schweitzer), we’ve had discussions, and after all is said and done, we’re going to let them get to the market to find out where they are in the market,” Dimitroff said at the NFL combine.

‘Where they are’ in the market is an interesting expression. One could find that rather ‘gloaty’ upon Dimitroff’s part as he may think each of those discussed players are worth less than what they perhaps thought they were. Perhaps he thought Hooper would find out the hard way that his asking price was too high. That side of this, though, we don’t know.

Either way, Hooper should earn big bucks this offseason after he set all of those career-high numbers AND missed three games with a knee injury. Hopper is the top tight end on the market at this point, and his payday would likely earn him a bigger salary than playing under the franchise tag in Atlanta would have allowed.

Regardless of position, ESPN ranks Hooper as the 15th-best free agent, and best tight end available while PFF has him as the 22nd-best free agent, and second-best tight end on the market. The franchise tag was rumored to be around $10.7 million, and after not seeing the team’s franchise tag by Monday’s noon deadline, Hooper now is set to break the bank on the open market.

Where do you think Hooper will sign? And where would you like Hooper to sign?

[UPDATE] — Hooper is already linked to the Cleveland Browns and the contract is set to be ‘big.’

And the contract is big.