Jonnu Smith sees the Patriots as the perfect fit

Mark Daniels
The Providence Journal
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Former Titans tight end Jonnu Smith was injured during the first day of workouts at Patriots minicamp.

When the NFL’s legal tampering period opened on March 15, the Patriots set their sights on ultra-athletic, hard-working tight end Jonnu Smith. The 25-year-old entered the NFL from Florida International University and developed into a dangerous red-zone target for the Tennessee Titans.

For the Patriots, the fit was obvious. The team desperately needed help at tight end and Smith was one of the best available on the free-agent market. His 41 receptions for 448 yards and eight touchdowns surpassed the Patriots entire tight end depth chart for 2020. His 2019 numbers also did the same.

As it turned out, this was a perfect match for both sides. When Smith weighed his options, the Patriots were an organization he admired from afar and felt they matched him as well as he matched the team’s needs.

“It just seemed like the perfect opportunity,” Smith said on Tuesday. “From knowing what I know, I believe that everything they stand for kind of matches my football DNA. I just couldn’t pass the opportunity. I believe this franchise has everything it needs – all the right ingredients, all the right stuff. I’m just honored and blessed to be a part of that.”

Smith grew up in Philadelphia and was an Eagles fan, but the Patriots were on his radar. He remembers watching his future head coach, Mike Vrabel catch touchdown passes, from Tom Brady – something he said Vrabel often reminded him about during his four seasons in Tennessee. Smith was 9 years old when he watched Vrabel, Brady and the Patriots beat his hometown Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX.

His NFL career began in 2017 and his first two seasons coincided with the Pats making two Super Bowl trips, winning one. But as the Patriots' Brady-led dynasty came to a close in 2019, Smith looks as his new journey to be a part of the team’s next chapter.

Smith was the first of 12 free agent signings the Patriots made last week and that includes fellow tight end Hunter Henry. Together, they’ll give the Patriots the best 1-2 tight end punch in the NFL.

“This is a historical franchise. These are guys building something they believe in and I’m excited to be a part of,” Smith said. “It’s a winning mentality here when you walk in the building. I’m excited for the opportunity. I’ve worked my butt off for this opportunity. I’m not going to let I slip past me. I’m excited to be out there with all of my teammates. The culture around here is different than anything. It’s not like anything I’ve been around and it represents me and a lot of things that I stand for.

“I just believe that working hard is the key thing that’s going to get you any success in life and that’s what these guys stand for. I’m just extremely excited to be a part of this organization, to be around the guys, meet the guys, meet all the coaches and get this thing going.”

Smith plans to workout with his teammates at some point this offseason before the team officially gets together. The tight end has also already connected with Cam Newton. The quarterback has been calling the Patriots new free-agent signings and that phone conversion left Smith even more eager to get things started in Foxboro.

“It was a great conversation. He gave me a warm welcome. He’s a hell of a guy,” Smith said. “It’s the first time I got to meet him. Still haven’t had an opportunity to meet him in person, but had a chance to talk with him on the phone for a while. We had a really great conversation. He’s a competitor, man. I’ve known that since I’ve watched him in college. I’m just excited to go out there and compete with him.”

It’ll be fascinating to see how the Patriots use Smith and Henry together in the offense. Smith has the ability to line up at the end of the line, in the slot, out wide and even in the backfield. He’ll give the offense a much-needed versatile weapon they needed in 2020.

As far as how Smith sees his role playing out, he’s happy to do whatever the Patriots need.

“Wherever I need to be at to help this team win is what I’m going to do,” Smith said. “That’s what I’m here for – to help the team win. I’m just going to be that guy who’s going to do whatever he’s asked at 100 miles an hour… I love the game. I love everything that comes with it. I take pride in that.”

Smith sounds like a perfect fit for New England already.

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