The Falcons will have to do some maneuvering of the cap to bring back Pro Bowl Tight End Austin Hooper. And while it is still early, there have been no negotiations quite yet, per Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com.
Hooper should have a robust market in free agency, as any team would receive a massive boost in production at the tight end spot with a signing of him or Hunter Henry. The former Stanford Cardinal may very well be the top option, given his growth over the past two seasons that has led to back-to-back Pro-Bowl appearances and his superior durability. Despite the lack of negotiations to this point, it does seem as if re-signing Hooper is a priority after holding on to him at the trade deadline, but currently, the Falcons only have $6.7 million in cap space, via Over The Cap.
There's been speculation Falcons would consider trading TE Austin Hooper because he could leave as a UFA after season but team believes it can sign him, even with potential salary cap issues (pending roster cuts). @TheAthleticATL
— Jeff Schultz (@JeffSchultzATL) October 22, 2019
The Falcons do have the option to franchise-tag Hooper, but the problem with that is the bar is set for $10.7 million this season, $4 million more than the amount of cap space the team has right now:
Thomas Dimitroff offered no update on Austin Hooper and contract talks. He said franchise tag always an option but probably not realistic with Hooper at about $10.7 mil. pic.twitter.com/u9GkVsExop
— vaughn mcclure (@vxmcclure23) January 21, 2020
Dimitroff did mention, however, that it is an option. The Falcons may very well franchise-tag him for leverage in negotiations, with no real intention of having him play under it until they come to terms on a long-term deal, as they did with Grady Jarrett last year. It seems as if Atlanta does want Hooper back, and I am sure he would love to stay after the rapport he has built with Matt Ryan over the years. If he does return, it will likely be on a new deal that is backloaded, which should make both parties satisfied moving forward.