Report: Patriots sign TE Hunter Henry

Mark Daniels
The Providence Journal
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TE Hunter Henry (86), formerly of the Chargers, is joining the Patriots.

After signing one of the top tight ends on Monday, the Patriots didn’t stop making big splashes in free agency on Tuesday, nor did they stop adding tight ends.

According to ESPN, the Patriots are signing Hunter Henry to a three-year, $37.5 million deal with $25 million in guaranteed money. Henry was considering one of the top tight end free agents on the market along with Jonnu Smith, who the Patriots are signing to a four-year, $50 million deal with $31.250 million in guarantees.

Both Henry and Smith will have an average value of $12.5 million per season. That makes them both the third highest paid tight ends in the NFL behind George Kittle and Travis Kelce. 

Henry, 26, has dealt with some injuries over his five-year NFL career, but when healthy, he’s been one of the best tight ends in the league. Last year, he finished with a career-high 60 receptions along with 613 receiving yards and four touchdowns. Like Smith, Henry has outperformed the Patriots tight end positions over the last two seasons. Last year, Patriots tight ends caught a combined 18 catches for 254 yards and one touchdown. In 2019, Patriots tight ends finished with 36 receptions, 418 yards and two scores. That year, Henry had 55 catches for 652 yards and five scores.

Henry was drafted in the second round in 2016 by the San Diego Chargers. He’s never played a full 16-game season -15 games in 2016, 14 in 2017, missing the entire 2018 season due to a torn ACL, 12 games in 2019 and 14 last season.

Henry is someone who Bill Belichick has favored over the years. Last season, the Patriots coach said he’s been watching the tight end since Henry was playing in high school at Pulaski Academy in Arkansas.

“Henry continues to be a complete and very, very good football player for them,” Belichick said on Dec. 2, 2020. “Henry's really been a great player. I’ve watched him pretty much his whole career. He started at Pulaski Academy down in Little Rock, played for Coach [Kevin] Kelly down there. He had a great career there, went to Arkansas and 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 showed good ability to block, catch. He runs a variety of routes. He’s come back off the injury and has been a very, very productive player for them, along with all their other good skill players. But, he's done a good job for them in a running game, as well as the passing game.”

Considering their lack of tight end production, the Patriots were considered the favorites to land either Smith or Henry. By adding both, the Patriots will have some of the best tight end depth in the NFL and their best two-tight end combo since the days of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. 

It’ll be fascinating to see how they utilize Henry and Smith. Last season, according to Pro Football Focus, Henry lined up all over the place – 456 snaps in-line, 334 in the slot, 106 out wide and 12 in the backfield. Smith also lined up in-line (554 snaps), in the slot (144), out wide (61) and in the backfield (19).

The Patriots attempted to load up their tight end position last season when they traded up twice in the. third round to select Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene. Neither rookie caught on as Ryan Izzo led the tight ends with 13 receptions, 119 yards and no touchdowns. Now, the Patriots have taken a sledgehammer to the position and added two of the best in the NFL.

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