New England Patriots

Sep 8, 2019; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Atlanta Falcons tight end Austin Hooper (81) catches a pass against the Minnesota Vikings during the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ben Ludeman-USA TODAY Sports

By Alex Barth,

The Patriots pursuit of Austin Hooper has taken a huge step closer to becoming a reality.

Speaking with reporters Tuesday at the NFL Combine, Atlanta Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff said the team plans to let the two-time Pro Bowl tight end hit the open market.

Hooper is expected to be one of the highest-paid free agents this spring, and could end up setting the top tight end on the market if the Chargers decide to use the franchise tag on Hunter Henry. Spotrac lists Hooper’s expected market value at just under $10 million a year.

A third-round pick in 2016, Hooper put together a breakout season in 2019. The Stanford product caught 75 passes for 787 and six touchdowns in 13 games for the Falcons.

Expect the Patriots to be immediate players for Hooper once the tampering period opens on March 16. The team was reportedly interested in trading for him at last season’s trade deadline, but ultimately ended up with wide receiver Mohamed Sanu instead. Matt Dolloff wrote earlier in the month about how Hooper could fit into the Patriots plans.

Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Hate mail? Let him hear it on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at