Austin Hooper leaving Atlanta is the reality at this point, as the Falcons are allowing him to hit the open market. Some believe the team will pursue a pass rusher instead. Hooper was recently predicted to receive a four-year, $44 million deal, and that is just too much to allocate given Atlanta’s cap restraints. He has yet to receive an offer, and the team will not be using the franchise tag, which means the Hooper era is probably coming to an end at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Our very own Alex Lord took a glance at some tight end options in free agency this offseason. However, Greg Olsen is now off the market. Hunter Henry is due to receive a contract slightly smaller than Hooper’s, which likely takes Atlanta out of the bidding, and Tyler Eifert is not a guy you can rely on from a health standpoint. The icing on the cake? The tight end draft class is not particularly strong, and frankly, expecting any rookie tight end to produce is a stretch.
So where does that leave the Falcons? While I am of the belief they should be stockpiling draft picks, they may need to consider a trade in this scenario. One name who could reportedly be had is Ravens’ tight end, Hayden Hurst.
Hurst was the 25th overall pick just two years ago but was limited due to a foot injury his rookie season. Since then, he has been overshadowed by rising star Mark Andrews. This is not to say Hurst is terrible… Andrews is just outstanding. With Baltimore also extending another tight end in Nick Boyle last season, it seems unlikely they would extend two tight ends from the same draft class. Thus, he is a name that is available for trade, and the Jaguars and Patriots are two teams that have been interested early on.
Hurst is a good blocker, but also has some of the most reliable hands among tight ends. Apparently, he wants to be in a situation where he is primed to catch a ton of passes, and if Austin Hooper’s production the last two seasons is any indicator, this could be a great situation for him to do so. With a couple of years left on his rookie deal that will pay him around $3 million in 2020, $3.5 in 2021 and a team option in 2022, Hurst could present an economical choice that has shown some upside in Baltimore.
As part of the Ravens’ tight end rotation last season, he caught 30 balls for 349 yards and 2 touchdowns. Not eye-popping numbers by any means, but he did a lot of the dirty work blocking for Baltimore’s running game and caught balls at a 76.9% clip.
If the Ravens are willing to part ways with him for a mid-round pick, Atlanta could get a starter-ready player for just one year less than the four-year contracts received outside of the first round. Hurst just needs the opportunity to shine, and his reliable hands can offer Matt Ryan a security blanket similar to Hooper. The reality is that if Hurst had been the starter, his numbers probably would have looked a lot like Hoop’s. It may be a downgrade, but he has the upside to become a quality starter and is manageable for the Falcons’ cap situation. If the team can part with — let’s say a third-round pick for his services — it is likely worth the cost.