Falcons TE Austin Hooper to test NFL free agency; should Patriots target him?

Falcons TE Austin Hooper to test NFL free agency; should Patriots target him?

Atlanta Falcons tight end Austin Hooper will test the NFL free agent market, which is great news for teams in need of an upgrade at that position.

Hooper has played his entire four-year career with the Atlanta Falcons since the team selected him in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft. He's coming off back-to-back 70-catch seasons, and his 2019 campaign was pretty impressive. Hooper set career highs with 75 catches, 97 targets, 787 receiving yards and six touchdowns last season despite missing three games.

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The 2020 free agent class of tight ends isn't particularly deep, and Hooper is clearly at the top of list. A few of the other notable tight ends available, including Hunter Henry and Tyler Eifert, have battled their share of injuries in recent seasons.

One team in need of a tight end is the New England Patriots, who would be wise to make a run at Hooper in free agency. 

The Patriots were never able to replace future Hall of Fame tight end Rob Gronkowski after he retired in March of last year. No one player was ever going to replace Gronkowski, but the collection of tight ends on the Patriots roster in 2019 didn't even come close. 

Here's a quick look at the offensive production from Patriots tight ends last season.

1. Benjamin Watson: 10 GP, 17 receptions, 173 yards, 0 TD
2. Matt LaCosse: 11 GP, 13 receptions, 131 yards, 1 TD
3. Ryan Izzo: Six GP, six receptions, 114 yards, 1 TD

Watson was brought in as a 38-year-old veteran, and he led all Patriots tight ends with 17 receptions, which ranked eighth overall on the team. 

Lackluster production at tight end was among the primary issues with the Patriots offense in 2019, and it's a position that must be addressed in free agency and/or the 2020 NFL Draft. In an ideal world, the Patriots would add a tight end from both of those avenues, especially since they are projected to own as many as 12 picks (including compensatory selections) in April's draft.

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Tom Brady's stay-at-home message contains healthy living tips amid pandemic

Tom Brady's stay-at-home message contains healthy living tips amid pandemic

Tom Brady is the latest athlete to record a stay at home message amid the coronavirus pandemic.

But his is a little different than the other ones you've already seen.

While most have spent time focusing on providing encouraging words to those dealing with the struggles of social distancing, Brady focused more on how to stay healthy amid the pandemic. Here's a look at his full message courtesy of the NFL's Twitter account.

This was a nice idea by Brady to give some tips to help people adjust to these unfamiliar living conditions. It also lines up pretty well with his health and lifestyle brand, TB12, so it's no surprise to see him preach the benefits of staying hydrated, being active, and eating nutrient-rich vegetables.

Of course, Brady did also have some words of encouragement for his audience and signed off by saying "I know we’re going to get through this together." So, that was a great gesture as well.

Brady will surely be focused on following these tips as he prepares for his first season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Brady spent the first 20 seasons of his career with the New England Patriots before signing with the Bucs this offseason.

NFL Odds: Here are the favorites to start at QB in Week 1 for the Patriots

NFL Odds: Here are the favorites to start at QB in Week 1 for the Patriots

The New England Patriots are facing uncertainty at quarterback for the first time in two decades. Tom Brady departed this offseason to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Patriots will need a new starting quarterback as a result.

That said, a favorite appears to be emerging to take over the job.

According to FanDuel Sportsbook, Jarrett Stidham is currently heavily favored to be the Patriots starter at least to kick-off 2020. Here's a look at the odds for each potential candidate at the position courtesy of FanDuel.

This lines up pretty well with what has come out of Patriots camp since Brady's departure. They seem to believe that Stidham is their future at quarterback, so why wouldn't they give him a shot to start? While Brian Hoyer isn't too far behind Stidham (+250), he's likely only that high because he has the most starting experience of the three passers currently on the Patriots depth chart.

The more interesting parts of these odds are the ones relating to veterans and rookies not currently on the team. Cam Newton (+900) leads the pack among the veteran options and is one of two non-Patriot quarterbacks ahead of presumed third-stringer Cody Kessler. The other is Andy Dalton (+1000).

While Newton is available, the Patriots don't have much in the way of cap space. So, it seems unlikely that they would sign him unless they have minimal confidence in the quarterback options on their roster or if one of their options suffers an injury down the road.

As for the rookies, Jacob Eason (+1900) actually leads the pack by a fair bit. He's still a longshot, but his odds are much better than the triage of other rookie passers listed; Justin Herbert, Jake From, and Jordan Love come in at +2600.

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Is this a sign that the Patriots like Eason? They're notoriously tight-lipped about the draft process, so it's hard to say. But if Eason continues to considerably lead the rookie pack as the draft draws nearer, that should be a good indication that the Pats have their eye on him.

Either way, Stidham is rightfully the favorite at this point and the Patriots seem content to give him a season to prove himself. But once the 2020 NFL Draft comes and goes, the picture at quarterback will be a bit clearer.