The Tennessee Titans signed a 27-year-old pass-catcher who has already been to the Pro Bowl twice, and they did it with a well below market value contract.
Even though Titans fans are already starting to appreciate Jon Robinson signing Austin Hooper, it is hard to grasp just how important this move was for the offense.
Part of that is because Robinson didn’t panic heading into free agency and most people in the national media lose steam/interest in free agency after the first 48 hours are over and the massive contracts are signed.
Despite the Tennessee Titans desperately needing help at receiver and tight end, the team didn’t make a big signing on the first day…or the second day…or the third day, until finally making two big moves on the fourth and sixth days of free agency.
First, the team signed Hooper, and then they traded a pick for receiver Robert Woods, both of which have been highlights of the OTA and mini-camp practices.
Woods is going to have a massive role this year including potentially being the WR1 until Treylon Burks is ready to take that role from him.
Without trying to diminish the impact that Bobby Trees will have on this offense, it is becoming very clear that Hooper will make an even bigger impact than maybe anyone outside of Derrick Henry and Ryan Tannehill.
What the Tennessee Titans will ask Austin Hooper to do
Tight ends only make the Pro Bowl for one reason, catching the ball.
Like it or not, letting fans vote on the Pro Bowl leads to fans voting for everyone on their favorite team or players that they own in fantasy football leagues. It is rarely about the best players in the NFL and you can see that based on the number of Indianapolis Colts players who managed to make it to the Pro Bowl despite the Colts being the example of walking mediocrity for the last few seasons.
For Austin Hooper, his back-to-back Pro Bowl years came in seasons where the Atlanta Falcons allowed him to be a weapon in their play-action-heavy passing game and that resulted in him being a top-7 fantasy tight end.
That is great and the Tennessee Titans would be smart to use Hooper as a weapon in the passing game, but that is only one thing that he will do for the offense.
He is going to help Ryan Tannehill by being an easy target in the passing game, he is going to help the other tight ends by allowing them to take smaller roles where they can succeed more easily, he is going to help Derrick Henry by being an incredible run-blocker, but he biggest impact will be how much he helps Dillon Radunz adjust to being an NFL starter.
Taylor Lewan will be back to 100% this season, Ben Jones will be rock solid as always, and Nate Davis looks like he is in great shape and poised to get back to playing at a high level this year. There are plenty of reasons to have optimism about the returning starters along that line, but the two question marks are Jamarco Jones (the presumed starter at left guard) and Dillon Radunz.
The good news is, that both Jones and Radunz should have help on either side of them which should take a lot of guesswork out of the game for them. Jones will have Lewan on his left and Ben Jones on his right, and on most of the offensive snaps, Radunz will have Davis to his left and Hooper to his right.
How do we know that Hooper will primarily line up next to Radunz? All you have to do is go back to the last time the Tennessee Titans developed a young offensive tackle back in 2016 with Jack Conklin.
As Conklin was growing into the three-time All-Pro that he would become, the Titans put him right next to Delanie Walker early and often. In Conklin’s rookie year, Walker spent 53% of his inline snaps on the right side and 67% of his snaps in the slot on the right side.
Not enough to tip off the defense on whether it was going to be a run or a pass, but enough to make sure that he had help when he needed it.
In 2022 it is hard to imagine the Titans straying too far from a plan that was so successful just a few years ago, especially since Hooper is someone who has the veteran savvy to sell blocking on play-action plays and get open.
With the Tennessee Titans wide receivers lacking a clear WR2 at this point, a lot is going to fall on the shoulders of an exceptionally talented tight end group. Hooper is in the prime of his career and he can do everything they need him to in the running game and in the passing game he is one of the rare players that is going to be able to fill up a stat line while also helping in ways that aren’t immediately obvious.
If I were the Titans, I would make sure that I was in constant communication with his agent to make sure that they were in the same ballpark for future negotiations because he is one of a handful of free agents that Tennessee should be planning to re-sign after this season.