Browns to release TE Austin Hooper after two seasons

Another notable member of the Browns is headed out of Cleveland.

The Browns are set to release tight end Austin Hooper on Wednesday, NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported.

Hooper's departure is not a surprise to those paying close attention to his production in Cleveland and the potential salary-cap benefits of releasing him. Hooper was set to carry the fourth-highest cap number on Cleveland's roster in 2022 at $13.25 million, but he can save the Browns $9.5 million in cap space as a post-June 1 designation. This seems to be the logical designation for Hooper's release, as there is a $7 million difference in cap savings based on designation.

Hooper's output simply hasn't been worth that kind of money to Cleveland. In his last year in Atlanta (2019), Hooper put up numbers worthy of a top-tier deal for a tight end, catching 75 passes for 787 yards and six scores. As the Browns' No. 1 tight end, Hooper has tallied 84 receptions for 780 yards and seven touchdowns combined between his two seasons in Cleveland. Former first-round pick David Njoku -- who seemed to be on the outs heading into 2021 -- outperformed Hooper, catching 36 passes for 475 yards and four touchdowns to finish third in receiving for the Browns in 2021.

That was enough to convince Cleveland to not let the 25-year-old Njoku walk away for free agency; the Browns placed the franchise tag on Njoku this month. It was also enough for the team to decide to move on from Hooper.

Hooper joined the Browns in part because he wanted the opportunity to play with quarterback Baker Mayfield. It worked out in Year 1, with the two helping Cleveland reach the postseason and win its first playoff game since the 1994 season. But the Browns are in the midst of some significant roster changes. They've already said goodbye to Jarvis Landry and JC Tretter and very well could soon do the same to Mayfield.

With Njoku secured for at least 2022 and third-year standout Harrison Bryant back for more, Cleveland can replace Hooper with a cheaper free agent tight end this offseason if it so chooses. Such an outcome seems necessary for Kevin Stefanski's offense, which often relies on three tight ends. None of those will be Hooper.

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