Jonnu Smith: The Patriots Newest Tight End

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If you're one of those fans that complains about Bill Belichick's patient approach to free agency, today is one of those days you dream about.  Free agency has just begun in the NFL and Belichick is just unloading money on free agents while the rest of the league stares on in shock. 

Photo courtesy of nfl.com

Normally the Patriots sit and observe the initial run on free agents and wait, wait, wait to find some good value from what's left.  Not this year.  As I write this, the Patriots have already signed four free agents, and rumors are that they are not done. 

The first of those free agent dominoes to fall was Jonnu Smith, a tight end formerly of the Tennessee Titans, who signed a 4-year, $50 million deal.  You can say what you want about the money.  His average salary of $12.5 million is high.  As a matter of fact, it was the second highest amount New England has given to a free agent in the past decade; they gave Stephon Gilmore $13 million.  I say "was the second highest amount", because then they added Matthew Judon at $14 million a year.

Back to Smith, though.  Just an outstanding move for the Pats.  Is the contract high?  Sure.  Is it a bit of any overpay?  Possibly.  Time will tell on that.  However, it addresses a glaring need for this team.  Rather than trying to find good value on a second or third rate tight end, the Pats went out and locked up what many believe to be the best tight end on the market (it's either Smith or Hunter Henry). 

I know the Patriots were linked to Henry a bit leading up to free agency because of Belichick's affinity for him, but in all honesty, I'd rather throw this kind of money to Smith given Henry's injury history.  Smith is going to be a great addition for New England, as long as you go into the season with realistic expectations.

First off, he's not going to be Rob Gronkowski.  This contract will make Smith one of the highest paid tight ends in the league, and though Smith is a very good tight end, he's not in the Gronkowski or Travis Kelce class.  We were spoiled by Gronk in the nine seasons he played here.  If you're expecting Smith to come in and have 1,000 receiving yards and double digit touchdowns, you're just setting yourself up for disappointment. 

What is much more likely is that Smith will come in and be a better version of Ben Watson.  Before you roll your eyes, Watson was a good tight end while here.  From 2005-2009, Watson averaged just over 400 yards and five touchdowns a season.  Last year, the Patriots got just over 250 yards and one touchdown from the tight end position.  Smith is a massive upgrade from that collection of talent.

Smith will be what Watson was, and more.  A strength in all aspects of the game.  A solid run blocker, pass blocker and pass catcher.  He's extremely athletic, and at 6'3" and 250 lbs is essentially the same size as Watson. 

His 448 receiving yards from last season don't jump off of the page, but consider his situation.  Playing alongside Derrick Henry, A.J. Brown and Corey Davis, Smith was competing for targets.  That won't be the case here.  Given the state of New England's pass catchers right now, Smith will be a top option. 

He'll also bring a red zone threat that New England has lacked for the past two seasons.  Last year he hauled in eight touchdowns.  Think of how many times the past two seasons the Patriots struggled to convert in the red zone.  In each of those seasons, the Patriots finished in the bottom fourth of the league in red zone offense. 

Last year, with Cam Newton, the red zone offense actually improved from 2019, but it still sucked.  It became so predictable, especially as they got closer to the goal line.  They would run it, Newton would keep it or they wouldn't score.  The addition of Smith gives them a legitimate red zone target.

Smith is also going to help Newton, overall.  I know Pats fans don't want to hear it, and are hoping New England finds their next quarterback in the draft next month, but don't be surprised to see Newton starting Week 1.  If he is, having a tight end will do wonders for him.  Think back to his Carolina days.

In his prime with the Panthers, Newton and tight end Greg Olsen had become quite a duo.  Olsen had three straight 1,000 yard seasons from 2014-2016, during which Newton won a league MVP award.  To say Cam leaned on Olsen is an understatement.

From 2012-2016, Newton targeted Olsen 100+ times in each of those five seasons and Olsen led the team in receiving yards per game in four of those five seasons.

Having a legitimate threat at tight end is something the Patriots haven't had in two seasons, and it's going to open up so much for them offensively, and it will do wonders for Newton I promise you.  I'm not saying he will return to MVP form, but there's no doubt in my mind his play will improve from last year with the presence of a tight end.  I understand that's not saying a lot, because last season was so putrid, but if Cam is the starting quarterback this year, the addition of Smith will give him a major boost.

All is to say I love this move by Belichick.  Does Smith deserve to be paid like a top tier tight end?  Maybe not.  If you're getting caught up in the dollar amount, you're nitpicking at this point.  For years I've heard people complain about Belichick and the Patriots lame approach to free agency.  Well for once, they had a major need and threw some money at one of the best guys available.  I cannot wait to see Smith in a Patriots uniform.


Follow Derek on Twitter @mcvay34.

Check out Fire the Muskets, the Syndicate’s podcast dedicated solely to the New England Patriots and the rest of the NFL.  Follow our Fire the Muskets Podcast on Twitter @FireTheMuskets.

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Boston Sports Syndicate: Jonnu Smith: The Patriots Newest Tight End
Jonnu Smith: The Patriots Newest Tight End
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