Cleveland has agreed to terms with tight end Austin Hooper, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport and NFL Network's Tom Pelissero and Michael Silver reported. Rapoport reports Hooper's deal is for four years and is worth $42 million -- making him the highest-paid tight end in the NFL. Hooper also receives $23 million guaranteed over the first two years of the deal.
Just a few hours later, Cleveland bolstered its offense further, agreeing to terms with free-agent tackle Jack Conklin on a three-year, $42 million deal, Rapoport added. Conklin will get $30 million fully guaranteed and $20 million in 2020.
Hooper's signing is interesting for a couple of reasons. The tight end rose from a second option at the position to a primary weapon in Atlanta, increasing his catch, receiving yard and receiving touchdown totals in each of his last three seasons. He heads to Cleveland to play for a coach in Kevin Stefanski who wants to use two tight ends of differing skills in his offense, as Minnesota did with Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith Jr. in 2019.
The Browns have plenty of cap space to work with, yet this signing forces us to question David Njoku's future with the team. Njoku missed all but four games last season due to a broken wrist and concussion suffered in Week 2, but his statistics over his first two seasons are similar to Hooper's. Are the two different enough to coexist? Or might the Browns trade Njoku?
The former first-round pick's fifth-year option will have to be picked up or declined during this offseason, a decision that could come at any time. Njoku also still needs to prove he can become a capable blocker and a reliable pass-catcher, not just a player with tremendous red-zone potential thanks to his jump ball-winning ability. He'll definitely have some competition in Cleveland soon enough.
The Conklin addition, while not market-resetting, is significant for a Browns team that seriously lacked reliable protection at both tackle spots in 2019. Right tackle was as big of a need as left tackle for this franchise. Depending on how the 2020 draft unfolds for Cleveland, the Browns could be looking at starting a line with two new tackles if they take one with their first-round pick and start him on the left side.
If not, they could insert Chris Hubbard on the left side, and while he's not a rock-solid blocker, the situation would still be better than what Cleveland experienced last season. Cleveland has paid Hubbard most of his guaranteed money in his five-year deal and Conklin will replace him on the right side, meaning the Browns could also part ways with Hubbard and save close to $5 million. Based on Cleveland's early aggression in free agency, it seems as if cap space isn't a primary concern. And it may be wiser to keep Hubbard as a swing option or a starter early on the left side while knowing the right side is shored up.