After suffering their worst season in twenty years, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots have broken the formula and made a big splash on the first day of free agency.
Per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, former Tenessee Titan Jonnu Smith has signed a four-year, $50 million deal that includes $31.25 million in guaranteed money.
Former Titans’ TE Jonnu Smith reached agreement with the Patriots on a 4–year, $50 million deals that includes $31.25 million fully guaranteed, @DrewJRosenhaus told ESPN.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 15, 2021
This signing sees Smith become the third highest-paid tight end in the NFL, only behind Travis Kelce and George Kittle. An appropriate paycheck for what many consider one of the best tight ends in the league.
Smith accumulated 41 catches, 448 yards and 8 touchdowns during the 2020 regular season. Contrast this type of production with New England’s current crop of tight ends and the signing became all the more obvious and necessary. Throughout their entire tenure in New England (a combined six seasons) Ryan Izzo, Dalton Keene, Matt LaCosse and Devin Asiasi have generated 499 yards receiving, 37 catches and 3 touchdowns.
There’s no other way to put it. Since the initial retirement of Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots have had the lowest level of production possible when it came to the tight end position.
Smith helps Cam
Smith provides a vital safety blanket for Cam Newton who recently signed his own deal to return to the Patriots in 2021. It is often said that a tight end is a quarterback’s best friend, and after seeing the rapport between Newton and tight end Greg Olsen in Carolina, Belichick made a smart decision to try to recreate that in New England.
Despite its obvious necessity, Smith’s signing comes as a surprise to many as making big splashes in free agency does not coincide with the ‘Patriot Way’ as we have all come to know it. Moreover, the Smith signing may come to represent a shift in Belichick’s squad-building philosophy.
However, Belichick has not been averse to making flashy free agent signings in the past. Just two years ago, Belichick signed Antonio Brown to the team. Brown was signed on a team-friendly deal, but the signing still conveyed Belichick’s willingness to acquire talent when the timing was right. And right now, the Patriots were crying out for any form of creativity and explosiveness within the offensive skill positions.
Jonnu Smith was the best tight end in football not named Travis Kelce last year. The Patriots are in a scramble to provide some semblance of a receiver corps to aid Cam Newton. Although this signing does seem costly, it was one that had to be done.