Change is coming to the New England Patriots’ tight end group.
The Patriots reportedly agreed Monday to trade Jonnu Smith to the Atlanta Falcons for a 2023 seventh-round draft pick. The move was a straight salary dump, allowing New England to offload the contract of a player who’d given them just 55 catches and one touchdown over 30 appearances in a Patriots uniform.
But while Smith offered minimal production over his two seasons in Foxboro — and didn’t come close to living up to the four-year, $50 million deal he signed in 2021 — his departure leaves the Patriots with no proven depth at the position.
Hunter Henry is entering the final year of his contract, and the two backups currently under contract (Matt Sokol and Scotty Washington) are practice squadders who have zero NFL receptions between them.
Fortunately for the Patriots, this is a good offseason to need tight end help, with an ample array of free agent options and a draft class that’s considered one of the best in years.
Last week, we spotlighted five notable free agent tight ends: Dalton Schultz, Mike Gesicki, Hayden Hurst, Austin Hooper and Robert Tonyan. You can read more about each of them in here:
Other FAs include Foster Moreau, Irv Smith and Jordan Akins.
The soon-to-be 31-year-old Akins played for new Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien in Houston and is coming off his best season, posting a 37-495-5 receiving line in 15 games for a bad Texans offense. Moreau put up decent numbers for Josh McDaniels’ Las Vegas Raiders this season (33-420-2), and the oft-injured Smith played for one of the Patriots’ favorite collegiate programs at Alabama.
And then there’s the draft, which features a collection of tight end prospects that NFL Media’s Daniel Jeremiah said is the best in at least a decade.
Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer, Utah’s Dalton Kincaid and Georgia’s Darnell Washington all are viewed as possible first-round prospects who could be in play for New England, either at No. 14 overall or after a trade-down. The Patriots have drafted two first-round tight ends under Bill Belichick but none since Ben Watson in 2004.
If they want to address this need on Day 2 or early Day 3, Iowa’s Sam LaPorta, Oregon State’s Luke Musgrave, South Dakota State’s Tucker Kraft, Old Dominion’s Zack Kuntz and Michigan’s Luke Schoonmaker all are potential targets.
NESN.com’s first Patriots mock draft had New England landing LaPorta, a broken-tackle machine in the Big Ten, in the fourth round. But he may come off the board earlier after an impressive showing at the NFL Scouting Combine.