As the Green Bay Packers look to retool for 2020, one position the front office apparently wants to upgrade is tight end. The team just released Jimmy Graham, before he could become a free agent on March 18. In his place, there are a number of targets who will be free agents when the league’s new year begins. Some of those players are well-aware they aren’t going to be signing a new contract with their current team before the deadline, so are already looking elsewhere. One of those players, Austin Hooper, is said to be a target for the Packers.
As ESPN‘s Vaughn McClure writes, Hooper is likely to be the top free-agent tight end on the market. There are bound to be several teams in pursuit of the 25-year-old, two-time Pro-Bowler.
Even with several suitors, it appears the Green Bay Packers could have an “in” with Hooper that will at least let them get a foot in the door. The Pack’s current head coach, Matt LaFleur, was the quarterbacks’ coach for the Atlanta Falcons in 2016 — that was Hooper’s rookie season. He recently talked to McClure about the relationship he was able to forge with the position coach in a short period of time.
“When he was a coach in Atlanta, I really liked Matt LaFleur as a person. I wasn’t a quarterback, so I couldn’t really see his coaching style as much. But he definitely helped me out as a younger player. For that, I’ll always be grateful. He’s a good guy; really likable person.”
Green Bay fans might see Hooper saying he’ll “always be grateful” and get a little excited. That would be natural. In a league with a salary cap, teams aren’t likely to be offering contracts all that different from one another. Hooper remembering LaFleur as someone who helped him grow as a tight end could be the deciding factor. There’s also the fact the Falcons’ star has a great deal of respect for Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
“One of the greatest to do it, for sure. Definitely a first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback. I mean, I can’t say enough good things about the guy. Some of the things he does, I don’t think anyone else in the league can do.”
At the same time, Austin Hooper has made it very clear he’s enjoying the attention he’s getting from several teams. If the schedule holds, he’ll be able to sign with a new team on March 18. After that, how long it takes for him to decide on the Green Bay Packers, or another club, is anyone’s guess.