Thomas Dimitroff was far from perfect this past offseason. A 2-6 record is plenty of evidence. However, he did make one correct decision regarding Atlanta’s starting tight end dilemma.
With the Falcons poised to be tight against the cap for years to come, it would have been pretty dreadful had they decided to ink Austin Hooper to a four-year contract worth over $40 million. Nothing against Hooper; he was terrific for the Falcons, but he’s far from what I would call an elite tight end. That can be seen by his stat line this season — 22 receptions for 205 yards and one touchdown.
However, in fairness to him, a drop-off from Matt Ryan to Baker Mayfield will because any pass-catcher’s numbers to plummet. Still, it’s fair to say the Falcons offering that kind of money to Hooper, given their cap situation, would have been a mistake. So instead, they let Hoop walk and used the second-round pick they received from the Patriots in the Mohamed Sanu trade to acquire former first-round pick Hayden Hurst.
Hurst was actually selected just a few spots before the Ravens eventual MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson, but he never really got his fair shake in Baltimore. A foot injury cost him some time as a rookie, and his fellow rookie teammate, Mark Andrews, took over as the Ravens TE1 and never looked back. Nick Boyle also developed himself into an elite blocking tight end, and before Hurst was even healthy, he was relegated to the role as a the third tight end, making him expendable.
That’s not to say the Ravens will ever regret this trade. They were set at tight end and turned that late second-round pick into J.K. Dobbins, who should fit in perfectly for years to come into what they are trying to do in Baltimore. But so far, the deal is working out even better for Atlanta.
Hurst is off to a promising start to his Falcons career. As a starter in a pass-happy offense, he has matched his statistics from last season in just eight games.
Through the first-half of the 2020 schedule, Hurst has caught 30 balls for 349 yards and three touchdowns. I think both he and Ryan would say there have been plenty of plays in which they barely missed that would have those numbers looking even better. With a little more time together, they should be able to clean those miscues up.
Hurst is on pace to finish the season with 60 catches for about 700 yards and six scores. That would be very similar production to what Hooper provided last year for the team. The great thing is that Hurst is making a fraction Hooper’s income. Hurst’s cap hit for this season is under $1.5 million. It will be under $2 million in 2021. Then, the Falcons will have to decide whether or not to pick up his fifth-year option for 2022.
Anytime a team is 2-6, there is a lot of finger pointing. There should be nobody complaining about how the Falcons were able to essentially flip Sanu for Hooper’s replacement. Sanu is out of the league at present. Hurst is delivering a lot of bang for his buck.
Hopefully, this is just the beginning for Hurst with the Falcons and he can continue to develop into a guy that is pushing the 1,000-yard mark — a rarity at the tight end position.