Falcons 'trudging along' in Austin Hooper negotiations

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Austin Hooper turned a contract year into a career year. The Atlanta Falcons tight end logged career highs in receptions (75), receiving yards (787) and touchdowns (6) despite playing just 13 games and will be playing in his second Pro Bowl in four seasons this Sunday.

Arguably the top tight end to become available in free agency in March, alongside Los Angeles Chargers TE Hunter Henry, Hooper is expected to earn a significant pay raise in 2020.

Atlanta hopes that it can retain Hooper's services for the foreseeable future, but as of now, the Falcons are not close to re-signing their third-leading receiver.

"The reality of right now is we are trudging along," Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said Tuesday, per the team's website. "After the Super Bowl week, we'll continue to see how we're moving forward. At this point, there's no updates on Austin."

Since entering the league as a third-round selection in 2016, Hooper ranks sixth in receptions (214) and ninth in receiving yards (2,244) and receiving scores (16) among all tight ends. The big-bodied TE has not been very injury-prone, though he did miss three games with a sprained MCL this year.

If and when Hooper hits free agency, the tight end could receive a contract that exceeds the top marks set during free agency last offseason. Jesse James received $22.6 million over four years and $10.5 million guaranteed at signing from Detroit, and Jared Cook signed a two-year deal in New Orleans with an average annual value of $7.5 million in 2019. Given his youth and production, Hooper should see more than that.

Atlanta could choose to place an estimated $11 million franchise tag on Hooper, but that seems unlikely. The highest-paid tight end in 2020 is currently slated to be Jimmy Graham in Green Bay ($10M).

The Falcons cannot tag Hooper until Feb. 25 and have until March 10 to do so. Free agency kicks off eight days later when Hooper could very well be swooped out of Atlanta unless negotiations between his team and the Falcons pick up.

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