Patriots sign former Titans TE Jonnu Smith

Mark Daniels
The Providence Journal
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Jonnu Smith, of the Titans, warms up before a game against the Jaguars on Dec. 13. The Patriots reportedly have agreed to sign Smith when free agency begins on Wednesday.

It didn’t take long for the Patriots to make a splash in free agency.

According to agent Drew Rosenhaus, the Patriots have reached an agreement with tight end Jonnu Smith. The 25-year-old will sign a four-year, $50-million deal, which includes $31.25 million in guaranteed money.

Smith was considered one of the top two tight ends on the free-agent market. The 2017 third-round pick has spent his four-year career in Tennessee. Last year, he caught 41 passes for 448 yards and eight touchdowns. Smith was ranked No. 12 at the tight end position by Pro Football Focus. That made him the highest-graded tight end available when the legal tampering period opened at noon on Monday.

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On Jan. 2, 2020, prior to the Patriots wildcard loss to Tennessee, Bill Belichick complimented Smith, dismissing the notion that he was more of a receiver than a traditional tight end.

“No, I wouldn’t put him in that category. He’s just a really good tight end,” Belichick said. “He can do a lot of things: blocks well, runs well, is a good receiver. I mean, hell, they played him at tailback. He looked pretty good back there. So, he’s a very athletic player, hard to tackle, catches the ball well. He’s great after the catch — probably the best in the league. I mean, I can’t imagine anybody better than him after the catch. No, he looks like a tight end to me. And a good one.”

Smith will instantly be the most talented tight end on the roster since Rob Gronkowski. The team was desperately in need of help at this position. Last year, the Patriots drafted two tight ends in the third round — Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene. But neither player, along with Ryan Izzo, was ever a big part of the Patriots' offense.

In the end, the Patriots had the least tight end production in the NFL. Izzo led the way with 13 receptions for 199 yards while Asiasi had two catches for 39 yards and Keene had three catches for 16 yards. It wasn’t much better in 2019. That year, Ben Watson (17 receptions, 173 yards), Matt LaCosse (13 catches, 131 yards) and Izzo (six catches, 114 yards) combined for 36 catches for 418 yards and two touchdowns.

Smith comes to New England having out-produced the entire Patriots depth chart in 2019 and 2020. Two years ago, Smith had one fewer reception (35) and more receiving yards (439) and receiving touchdowns (three) than the combined tight end depth on the Patriots. That was certainly the case last year as well as Smith finished with 41 receptions, 448 yards and eight touchdowns while the Patriots' tight ends caught 18 passes for 254 yards and one touchdown.

At 6-foot-3, 248 pounds, Smith is considered athletic for the tight end position. He has great hands, catching 67.5% of the passes thrown his way the last four seasons. He also has just eight drops on 169 targets, according to Pro Football Reference. Pro Football Focus also gave Smith a run-blocking grade of 62.1. By comparison, Izzo was graded 56.2 last season and was the Patriots top blocking tight end.

The Patriots now head into the rest of the offseason with solid depth at tight end. Smith will lead the way with Asiasi, Izzo, Keene and LaCosse (who opted back in) all returning. If either Asiasi or Keene develops into the tight ends the Patriots thought they could when they traded up for them in the third round, it’ll only add to an already improved offense.

Titans tight end Jonnu Smith finds open space during a game against the Colts on Nov. 12.
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