Historically, the tight end position was often seen a luxury.
Those who were fortunate enough to sport loaded rosters could afford to take a flyer on the position in hopes of finding a capable starter.
That was the old way of thinking.
Now tight ends routinely go within the early part of the first round, trumping the traditional way of thinking.
In today’s pass happy NFL, securing a difference maker at tight end can be the difference between a middling offense and a top ten unit.
Hybrid talents, capable of dominating both as a blocker and receiver, are generally affiliated with top tier offenses (as was the case in 2019).
Mark Andrews and the Baltimore Ravens (2nd in total offense).
Austin Hooper and the Atlanta Falcons (5th in total offense).
Travis Kelce and the Kansas City Chiefs (6th in total offense).
Tyler Higbee and the LA Rams (7th in total offense).
Jared Cook and the New Orleans Saints (9th in total offense).
Hunter Henry and the LA Chargers (10th in total offense).
Darren Waller and the Oakland Raiders (11th in total offense).
Coincidence? Perhaps but this list doesn’t even include previous staples like Zach Ertz and emerging stars Noah Fant and Dallas Goedert.
In today’s NFL, if you want to be considered an elite NFL offense, you need a legitimate weapon at the tight end position.
The Arizona Cardinals, as currently constructed, do not have this.
With the hopes of elevating themselves into the NFL’s elite offensive ranks come 2020, the Cardinals must continue to overhaul a once dismal unit. Yes, that todo list includes adding an outside receiver as well as upgrading at right tackle.
However, the tight end position (from a receiving standpoint), must also be addressed.
The 2019 offseason addition of Maxx Williams was a tremendous get, as the fifth year pro was rewarded for his efforts with a new two year extension. His Pro Football Focus grade of 78.5 was among the best at the position, although that number was heavily weighted by his contributions as a blocker.
As a receiver, Williams posted a pedestrian grade of 60.5 while contributing just 202 yards in the air.
Williams was signed to an extension because of the physical presence he brought to an otherwise (historically) soft unit in the run game.
Arizona needed that, and are fortunate to have the former Minnesota Gopher in Cardinal red moving forward.
But he’s not a weapon through the air, and while Dan Arnold shined in a handful of games down the stretch, the 24 year old is still mostly unproven.
The Cardinals need a weapon that has the size and skills to disrupt opposing linebackers and safeties. They need a proven addition that can take pressure off Kyler Murray and his young receiving core on third down.
Enter soon to be free agent Austin Hooper.
Say what you want about the 2019 Atlanta Falcons but the offense certainly produced.
Aiding in those efforts was former third round pick Austin Hooper, who netted a career best 787 yards and sixth touchdowns for the dirty birds. Like Williams, he too had a top tier tight end rating via PFF (78.3), but (unlike Williams) was heavily influenced by a sparkling 80.5 mark as a receiver.
Oh, and he also completely toasted the Cardinals on October 13th in tune of 113 yards and a TD.
You would think the Atlanta Falcons would prefer to keep young Hooper around considering that he is an ascending player in this league.
The problem is, however, the Falcons are completely cash strapped to the point where they are schedule to have a mere $5 million dollars available once free agency begins.
That number all but assures Hooper will be playing elsewhere come 2020.
During the Senior Bowl, it was reported by NFL insider Tony Pauline that the Cardinals (among others) would have interest in courting Hooper this offseason.
This was the first instance in which Arizona was linked to a soon to be free agent tight end which, predictably, sent Cardinal twitter into a frenzy.
Why would the Cardinals, sporting the 31st ranked defense, unload their precious free agent dollars on a tight end?
Especially when you consider (according to Spotrac) Hooper is scheduled to command anywhere from $10-13 million per year, on a five year deal worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $50-60 million.
On the surface, one would assume that the Cardinals will spend handsomly on a bevy of defensive additions come March. Their defensive line, in particular, is inarguably their weakest position unit on the roster.
But when you dive a little deeper, the free agent crop of defensive tackles may leave much to be desired.
Word out of Kansas City is that Chris Jones has no intention of leaving.
The San Francisco 49ers have the same idea with Arik Armstead.
Oh, and Leonard Williams (aiming for his third team in less than a year) wants $15 million per.
After those three heavyweights, there’s a whole lot of “meh” remaining in the DT market.
Sure, the Cardinals could (and likely will) load up on second and third tier options that will provide quality depth. They could sample from the “elite” ILB/OLB market with the hopes of landing the next Jordan Hicks.
But with the addition of someone like Hooper, they’d be assuring themselves of a young Pro Bowl level player likely only reaching his peak.
Regardless of how you feel about spending big on the tight end position, the Cardinals don't have enough individuals that fit that description on their roster.
Hooper immediately brings that.
Did I mention that the Cardinals are also allergic to adding quality tight ends via the draft?
If the Cardinals offseason efforts from a year ago taught us anything, it’s that they are now fully committed to this rebuild. Not every need can be filled within a single offseason, but when they spot talent (ala Kyler Murray), they are likely to pull the trigger.
So rather than forcing the issue on defense and spending just for say so, why not add impact regardless of position?
My guess is that Kyler Murray would approve.