Tight ends hitting 2020 free agency: Austin Hooper and Hunter Henry headline impressive free agent class


The San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs were the last two NFL teams standing this season, and they both had this in common: an elite two-way (both as a receiver and blocker) tight end. Travis Kelce and George Kittle are two of the best tight ends in the league, and the former caught a huge touchdown in the second half of Super Bowl LIV that initiated what ended up being a 21-point run which secured the victory for the Chiefs.

Kittle and Kelce’s unique combination of size, speed and catching ability make them two of the most dynamic offensive weapons in football, and they showed the NFL that a skilled tight end can take an offense to the next level. There are a couple of big names hitting the open market this offseason, and it will be interesting to see how much money Austin Hooper can get from the Atlanta Falcons — or someone else, and if Hunter Henry can finally stay healthy and reach his full potential, and which team will take a chance on a veteran like Greg Olsen.

Let’s take a look at a few of the best tight ends entering free agency this offseason:

Austin Hooper

It’s hard to imagine the Falcons will let Hooper walk, but they apparently haven’t had much success in negotiations thus far. Hooper is in line to get paid big time this offseason. In 2019, he put up career numbers despite missing three games due to injury. The former third-round pick caught 75 passes for 787 yards and six touchdowns — posting some of the best per-game numbers at the position. He’s improved in each of his four seasons and the biggest free-agent contracts tend to go to the youthful players who just completed their rookie contract. Hooper wants to stay in Atlanta, but it remains to be seen if the Falcons will give him the money he is looking for. Teams looking for a high-upside swing at the tight end position will be targeting Hooper, and judging by the four-year, $32 million contract the Chicago Bears handed to tight end Trey Burton during the 2018 free agency period, he is about to get paid.

Hunter Henry

Henry might be the most talented tight end available this offseason, and it will be interesting to see if the Chargers can keep him in Los Angeles. In 2019, he put up some of his best numbers yet, as he caught a career-high 55 passes for 652 yards and five touchdowns in just 12 games played. The 25-year-old is someone who has the potential of a Kelce or a Kittle, but he has missed 23 regular-season games in four years. Handing a long, lucrative extension to someone like that is a tad scary given his injury history, but Henry may be worth it. It will be interesting to see if Henry follows former Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers in free agency.

Greg Olsen

The 34-year-old and the Carolina Panthers mutually agreed to part ways last month, and Olsen has already gotten ahead of everyone else when it comes to searching for his new NFL home. In the span of a couple of weeks, he visited a few teams and is reportedly now in contract negotiations with the Buffalo Bills, Washington Redskins and Seattle Seahawks. Bills general manager Brandon Beane served as the director of football operations and as the assistant general manager with the Panthers before taking the gig in Buffalo. He was on staff when Carolina first made the deal in acquiring Olsen from the Chicago Bears in 2011. Of course, the link with the Redskins is even more obvious as former Panthers head coach Ron Rivera is now calling the shots in Washington. Olsen caught 52 passes for 597 yards and two touchdowns in 14 games this season. He’s probably only got a year or two left in him, but clearly still has some tread left on the tires. 

Eric Ebron

The Indianapolis Colts took a hit as a group when quarterback Andrew Luck announced his retirement last offseason, and it definitely hurt Ebron. In 2018 with Luck, he caught 66 passes for 750 yards and 13 touchdowns. This past year without Luck, he caught just 31 passes for 375 yards and three touchdowns in 11 games played. If Ebron does indeed decide to test the market, there should be plenty of interest in the former No. 10 overall pick. Ebron was considered a bust during his first four seasons with the Detroit Lions, but really turned things around in his first year in Indy. He’s an athletic offensive weapon and played his high school ball in North Carolina. Maybe new Panthers head coach Matt Rhule would be interested in bringing him back home with Olsen gone. 

Jason Witten

The former “Monday Night Football” color commentator may be turning 38 this offseason, but he’s apparently ready to “exhaust every opportunity to play in 2020,” even if it’s not with the Dallas Cowboys. His return to the field last season wasn’t incredible, as he recorded 63 catches for 529 yards and four touchdowns, which was his lowest yardage tally since his rookie season back in 2003. Witten still could retire, but he likely will re-up with the Cowboys for at least another season. It’s hard to imagine he would actually want to close out his illustrious career with a team other than the one he has spent his whole NFL life with. 

Tyler Eifert

The 29-year-old finally played in all 16 games for the first time in his career this year, but unfortunately, it was for the worst team in the league: the Cincinnati Bengals. In 2019, Eifert caught 43 passes for 436 yards and three touchdowns. Injuries have been a big issue for Eifert, who is still trying to match the production he had in 2015, when he caught 52 passes for 615 yards and 13 touchdowns. With the No. 1 overall pick, the Bengals are expected to select quarterback Joe Burrow out of LSU. If that does indeed happen, having a good tight end can do wonders for a young signal caller’s development. However, it’s hard to count on Eifert — four years removed from that 13-touchdown breakout.

Darren Fells

Fells certainly is not one of the most highly-touted free agents, but he’s someone I find very interesting. The 33-year-old is actually a former professional basketball player who recorded a career-high 34 receptions for 341 yards and seven touchdowns in 2019. He entered the NFL with the Seahawks in 2013 and bounced around a bit before finding a home in Houston. His 6-foot-7 frame makes him an ideal red-zone threat, and a solid blocker, and if you’re going to tie DeAndre Hopkins for the team lead in receiving touchdowns, you deserve to be mentioned. 

The rest of the bunch:

Marcedes Lewis (Green Bay Packers, UFA)

Charles Clay (Arizona Cardinals, UFA)

Bradley Sowell (Chicago Bears, UFA)

Lance Kendricks (Los Angeles Chargers, UFA)

Blake Bell (Kansas City Chiefs, UFA)

Logan Thomas (Detroit Lions, UFA)

Levine Toilolo (San Francisco 49ers, UFA)

Luke Willson (Seattle Seahawks, UFA)

Scott Simonson (New York Giants, UFA)

Nick O’Leary (Jacksonville Jaguars, UFA)

Richard Rodgers (Philadelphia Eagles, UFA)

Benjamin Watson (New England Patriots, UFA)

Nick Vannett (Pittsburgh Steelers, UFA)

Ben Koyack (Jacksonville Jaguars, UFA)

Clive Walford (Miami Dolphins, UFA)

Eric Tomlinson (Las Vegas Raiders, UFA)

Seth Devalve (Jacksonville Jaguars, UFA)

MyCole Pruitt (Tennessee Titans, UFA)

Ricky Seals-Jones (Cleveland Browns, RFA)

Jerome Cunningham (Washington Redskins, RFA)

Jacob Hollister (Seattle Seahawks, RFA)

Dillon Gordon (Carolina Panthers, RFA)

Robert Tonyan Jr. (Green Back Packers, ERFA)

Blake Jarwin (Dallas Cowboys, RFA)

Antony Auclair (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, RFA)

Sean Culkin (Los Angeles Chargers, RFA)

Cethan Carter (Cincinnati Bengals, RFA)

Jason Croom (Buffalo Bills, ERFA)

Johnny Mundt (Los Angeles Rams, ERFA)

Ross Dwelley (San Francisco 49ers, ERFA)

Deon Yelder (Kansas City Chiefs, ERFA)

Pharaoh Brown (Cleveland Browns, ERFA)

Tanner Hudson (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, ERFA)

J.P. Holtz (Chicago Bears, ERFA)

Marcus Baugh (Carolina Panthers, ERFA)

David Wells (Kansas City Chiefs, ERFA)

Isaiah Searight (New York Giants, ERFA)

Tyrone Swoopes (Seattle Seahawks, ERFA)





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