Austin Hooper

NFL Free Agency 2020: No Austin Hooper for the Bears

NFL Free Agency 2020: No Austin Hooper for the Bears

The Chicago Bears were expected to be in play for Atlanta Falcons free-agent tight end Austin Hooper, but less than one hour into the NFL's legal tampering period, the Hooper sweepstakes are over.

Hooper is headed to the Cleveland Browns after agreeing to a contract that will make him the highest-paid tight end in the NFL.

For Bears fans holding out any hope that Hooper could still be a Bear, ESPN's Adam Schefter suggested Hooper to the Browns isn't a slam-dunk just yet.

The Bears will turn their attention to the next tier of free-agent tight ends, including Eric Ebron, assuming it's a position they're prioritizing in free agency. The 2020 NFL draft will offer potential upgrades in the second round, too.

For now, it appears the Hooper hype is over.

The Bears won't be the only team in the NFC North going after TE Austin Hooper

The Bears won't be the only team in the NFC North going after TE Austin Hooper

It's like the Kyle Fuller thing all over again! 

The Bears haven't been subtle about their desire to improve at tight end this offseason, and they've already been connected to Austin Hooper, one of the best free agents available. 

Though what would free agency be without a little bit of drama? A new report today suggests that the Bears aren't even the only NFC North team trying to sign the two-time Pro Bowler: 

Since Hooper is, you know, very good, it's not surprising to hear that the Bears aren't alone in their pursuits. But the idea of losing out on a top-tier tight end, only to watch him torch the Bears twice a year, is spooky for fans who just want something to be optimistic about. How juicy! The impending bidding war will be riveting. 

Chicago Bears planning a run at free-agent tight end Austin Hooper

Chicago Bears planning a run at free-agent tight end Austin Hooper

The 2020 NFL Combine is revving up off the field as much as it is on the field. Quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends kicked off the workouts at Lucas Oil Stadium, but it's what's going on inside the bars and restaurants in Indianapolis that should have Bears fans interested.

According to Jason Leiser of the Chicago Sun-Times, the Bears are preparing to make a run at prized free-agent tight end, Austin Hooper. The Falcons playmaker is the top free-agent tight end on the market this year and according to Atlanta's general manager Thomas Dimitroff, he'll be given the opportunity to find out what his market value is.

That number is likely to come close to $10 million per season, which seems like an impossible price to pay for a Bears team that's already up against the salary cap. But with a new CBA on the horizon, everything we thought we know about the salary cap could soon change.

Hooper would instantly provide the Bears with the kind of second-level threat the passing game's been lacking since, well, forever. Or, since Martellus Bennett left town in 2016.

Ryan Pace has to be careful, however. He's swung and missed on two free-agent tight ends since becoming the Bears GM. First, it was Dion Sims in 2017. Then came Trey Burton in 2018. 

Sims lasted just two seasons in Chicago. He totaled 17 catches as a Bear. Burton, who's battled injuries over his first two years in Chicago, had just 14 catches in 2019.

Pace doesn't really have a choice but to pay up at this point. If he hits on Hooper, the misses on Sims and Burton will be quickly forgotten.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.