The New England Patriots took care of a significant piece of housekeeping ahead of Monday’s soft start to free agency, trading tight end Jonnu Smith to the Atlanta Falcons.
The move gives the Patriots a bit of cap relief and gives the Falcons a suddenly deep position group. Who won the deal? In our grading of the trade breakdown, we look at all angles.
Grading the Jonnu Smith Trade
The Patriots are reportedly shipping Smith to the Falcons for just a seventh-round pick, suggesting the market for his services was quite weak.
Assuming the Patriots are not eating any of Smith’s contract, the Falcons, in the short term, will be on the hook for his $10 million base salary, including $6.3 million guaranteed. Sports Illustrated reported that Smith will restructure his contract, so the salary cap ramifications for both teams were not immediately clear.
Atlanta Falcons Get Head Start on Free Agency
The move suggests that the Falcons do not have a particularly high opinion of this year’s tight end class.
They were willing to both part with an asset and use some of their roughly $64 million in cap space on a player that was a big-time disappointment during his two seasons in New England.
Again, we don’t know all the financials, and if Smith is going to take a significant pay cut, this could be a solid deal for a Falcons offense that got just 62 catches for 695 yards and six touchdowns total from their five tight ends in 2022.
Arthur Smith coached Jonnu Smith for four years during their time together with the Titans. Jonnu’s most productive season came with Arthur as his offensive coordinator in 2020, catching eight touchdown passes in his contract year.
We’ll be fascinated to see if the Falcons will be more willing to incorporate the tight end position than they were last season. Kyle Pitts was a game-wrecker as a rookie but was basically an afterthought in his injury-shortened second season.
New England Patriots Take Their Medicine
The Jonnu Smith contract was a bad deal at the time he signed and got no better during his two lackluster seasons in Foxborough.
The Patriots paid Smith $26.8 million in salary and bonuses over the past 24 months. They got 55 catches for 539 yards and one touchdown in return for that investment.
Bill Belichick ultimately decided to cut his losses, but not before incurring a $12.8 million dead cap charge.
The decision leaves the Patriots with $31 million in cap space and two tight ends on their projected 2023 roster: Hunter Henry and Matt Sokol.
Henry and Smith joined the Patriots in the same free agency cycle, but Henry has been the far more productive player since (91 catches for 1,112 yards and 11 touchdowns in his two seasons with the Patriots).
We’ll give the Patriots a little extra credit for getting any value in return, but this is a report card they’ll want to hide from mom.
Fresh (Last?) Chance for Jonnu Smith
Look, we don’t begrudge Smith for maximizing. It wasn’t his fault that the Patriots paid him like a top-10 tight end.
But that will probably be the last charity he gets in the NFL. Smith will have to grind for every dollar he makes going forward.
Fortunately for him, he’s back in his comfort zone with Arthur Smith. And with Pitts drawing double-teams downfield, Smith should see a bunch of one-on-ones and soft zones across the middle.
Now, if we only knew who will be throwing him the ball…