“On paper, it’s pretty scary” Austin Hooper tells 92.3 The Fan on joining Browns

CLEVELAND, Ohio (92.3 The Fan) – Browns executive vice president and general manager Andrew Berry wasted no time landing his first big free agent target Monday.

Two-time Pro Bowl tight end Austin Hooper and the Brows have agreed to terms on a deal that would make Hooper the highest paid tight end in the game – for now.

“I picked Cleveland because I knew the GM, I really liked [head coach Kevin] Stefanski from watching his film from afar and I believe in Baker [Mayfield],” Hooper told 92.3 The Fan in an exclusive interview with Bull and Fox. “I think he’s a really talented young quarterback and just take a look at all of the pieces there that are already in place on that roster.

“The way it was sold to me was that they’re just a couple of pieces away from getting to where they wanted to go. It was an exciting opportunity for me that I thought would be foolish to turn down.”

NFL Network reported the deal is for four years and $42 million with $23 million guaranteed in the first two years.

Hooper, selected in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft by Atlanta, was one of the more productive tight ends the last two seasons in the league, especially up the seams, making him the perfect fit for Stefanski who likes using two tight end sets.

“The more and more we were looking at it, Cleveland just made sense,” Hooper said.

Adding him to an offense that already has Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt gives Mayfield no shortage of targets to throw to next season.

“On paper, it’s pretty scary,” Hooper said.

The addition of Hooper doesn’t faze David Njoku, who enters his fourth year with the Browns.

Njoku responded to a fan on Twitter who suggested he would seek a trade by saying, “Nahhhh man cmon I love competition. We’ll push each other and get better together.”

“Already having David [Njoku] in place there, just the ability to have both of us just create some different matchup problems for the defense and especially with the two monsters Cleveland already has on the outside, the four of us out there it’d be hard pressed to find a defense that could play man-to-man against all four of us across the board,” Hooper said.

Having Beckham line up next to him could be the biggest benefit to Hooper.

“I wouldn’t be mad about it,” Hooper said jokingly. “I played with a superstar receiver in Atlanta and just the amount of respect those guys get, it obviously opens up a lot of things for other players on the field.”

In four seasons for the Falcons, Hooper started 28 of the 59 games he appeared in catching 214 passes for 2,244 yards and 16 touchdowns.

In 2019 Hooper caught 75 of 97 targets for 787 yards and six touchdowns in 13 games, 10 of those starts.  

“Every year I’ve been in the league, there’s been a clear linear trajectory of me just getting better and better,” Hooper said. “Not just understanding the game but physically producing in terms of catches, yards and touchdowns.”

In Stefanski’s offense, Hooper will be asked to block too, and he’s ready to answer the call.

“It’s interesting because when I came in all I did was block and they labeled me as a blocker and then I started catching touchdowns and they said I couldn’t block and I was just a pass catcher,” Hooper said. “Everyone who plays JV, high school football has their own opinion, but the real decisionmakers who put teams together know what I can do. I can do it in the run game and in the pass game, so I think that’s why they wanted me here.”

Hooper has already spoken with Mayfield about getting together in Texas to train together with the NFL offseason in flux due to the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the country.

“He was really excited,” Hooper said. “I can’t say that word enough. Just talking to him, just how excited we both were about the opportunity. We both just want to get to work.”

Hooper can put pen to paper officially on his new contract Wednesday at 4 p.m. when the new league year officially commences.