One of the best tight ends on the market? How about both of the best tight ends on the market?
One day after reportedly agreeing to terms with Jonnu Smith on a four-year, $50 million contract, the New England Patriots reached an agreement with Hunter Henry on a three-year, $37.5 million deal that includes $25 million guaranteed, according to a report from ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
The additions of Smith and Hunter — widely considered the top two tight ends available in NFL free agency — will radically reshape a position group that’s struggled to find its footing since Rob Gronkowski’s 2019 departure. The Patriots ranked last in the league in receptions by tight ends in each of the last two seasons.
Henry has spent his entire five-year career with the Los Angeles Chargers. He missed nearly the entire 2018 season with a torn ACL but bounced back strongly, catching 55 passes for 652 yards and five touchdowns in 2019 and then posting a 60-613-4 line in 2020 while playing on the franchise tag.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick has long admired Henry. Before the Patriots and Chargers met this past December, Belichick raved about the 26-year-old, whom he’s followed since Henry’s days as an Arkansas high schooler.
?Henry continues to be a complete and very good football player for (LA),? the coach said. ?Henry?s really been a great player, watched him pretty much his whole career. He started at Pulaski Academy down in Little Rock, Ark., played for coach (Kevin) Kelley down there, had a great career there, went to Arkansas. Had a great career at Arkansas, went to the Chargers and with (Virgil) Green out, he?s really played the Y role this year. And he?s shown good ability to block, catch, runs a variety of routes. He?s come back off of the injury and been a very productive player for them.”
Henry and Smith — an athletic, versatile 25-year-old who comes over from the Tennessee Titans — will join a tight end group that totaled just 18 receptions for 254 yards and one touchdown last season (with 50 of those yards coming on a failed Hail Mary to Ryan Izzo). It remains to be seen what their arrivals will mean for Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene, both of whom the Patriots traded up to select in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
Veterans Izzo and Matt LaCosse also are under contract for the upcoming season. LaCosse opted out of the 2020 campaign due to COVID-19 concerns.
Henry was New England’s eighth free agent addition since the NFL’s legal tampering period opened Monday, joining Smith, defensive tackle Davon Godchaux, edge rusher Matt Judon, defensive back Jalen Mills, wide receivers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne and defensive lineman Henry Anderson.
These players cannot officially sign until the NFL league year opens at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday.