Buckle up, Bears fans. One of the top free agents at Chicago's biggest area of need will, in fact, be available this March.
Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff confirmed on Tuesday from the NFL Combine in Indianapolis that Austin Hooper will be given the chance to test the open market. He's expected to be the most coveted free agent at his position and despite the hefty investment Ryan Pace made in Trey Burton in 2018's free agent period, Hooper qualifies as a must-add.
The #Falcons are planning to allow starters TE Austin Hooper and De’Vondre Campbell to test free agency, GM Thomas Dimitroff said today. The likelihood is that both players receive large deals in free agency, but Atlanta hasn’t ruled out keeping them for the right price.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 25, 2020
Hooper was one of the NFL's most productive pass-catching tight ends through the first half of the 2019 regular season before injuries slowed him down. He ended the year with 75 catches for 787 yards and six touchdowns in 13 games (10 starts). He was one of quarterback Matt Ryan's most important targets in the passing game.
Compare Hooper's production with the Bears' tight end group, which was led by Trey Burton's 14 catches and 84 yards. Not good.
Hooper's projected market value, per Spotrac, will approach $10 million per season. And while that seems like a steep price to pay when there's already a tight end making $8 million per year on the roster, Pace may have no choice but to bite the bullet and give Matt Nagy the chesspiece his offense needs.