Austin Hooper has reportedly agreed to a four-year, $44 million contract with the Cleveland Browns. The move keeps him from building on the 2019 breakout in Atlanta and muddies the ceilings for Baker Mayfield’s loaded cast of weapons.
After slowly growing his game from 2016 to 2018, Hooper burst into the spotlight with a 2019 campaign that saw him join the league’s elite.
The numbers were even better during the season’s first half before injuries slowed him down the stretch.
Despite the injuries, Hooper’s season was a special one. He finished top-six in virtually every TE receiving category, including fourth in TDs and third in PPG.
By finishing ahead of Zach Ertz, Hooper solidifies himself among fantasy’s best. So why should we be worried about the situation in Cleveland?
Lower Ceiling With the Browns
It’s tempting to suggest that if Hooper was able to flourish in an offense feeding Julio Jones and, to a lesser extent, receivers like Calvin Ridley and Mohamed Sanu, he’ll continue to thrive alongside Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry.
Unfortunately, the Falcons were operating with a much larger total pie. Atlanta ranked No. 1 in passing Expected Points, while Cleveland sat middle of the pack. Their new head coach called plays for an offense that fell into the bottom three.
The respective depth charts and target shares also suggest a traffic jam in 2020.
|WR1||Julio Jones (26%)||Jarvis Landry (27%)||Stefon Diggs (22%)|
|WR2||Calvin Ridley (18%)||Odell Beckham (26%)||Adam Thielen (18%)|
|TE||Austin Hooper (19%)||Demetrius Harris (5%)||Kyle Rudolph (11%)|
|RB||Devonta Freeman (12%)||Kareem Hunt (18%)||Dalvin Cook (16%)|
Beckham and Landry earned larger shares of the Browns passing game than did the elite duos in Atlanta and Minnesota. They also got a big performance from Kareem Hunt once he returned from suspension, and the Browns have given him a second-round RFA tender. In order to replace Harris (5%) with Hooper’s much larger share, that volume has to come from somewhere. Given the integral nature of each part to the offense, it likely lowers the ceiling for each member of the quartet.
A Final Note of Optimism
In recommending Landry as a top dynasty trade target, Curtis Patrick noted that Landry’s numbers actually improved with Hunt in the fold. This is a good reminder that adding an elite talent can often improve efficiency and create more overall volume within an offense.
As long as Mayfield morphs back into the promising QB talent from the end of his rookie campaign, the entire Browns offense could be savvy value plays in 2020. Hooper was the only one with a lofty price tag heading into free agency.
Hooper’s signing might also be the precursor to other moves in Cleveland. Beckham’s name is permanently connected to trade rumors. The opportunity would open up in a big way if he departs or if Landry’s hip causes him to miss a substantial chunk of the season.
Hooper’s exit from Atlanta also makes this a good time to buy high on Calvin Ridley — Samuel Wallace has the details.