NFL teams that need to look at the 2021 free agency class to find tight end help could struggle thanks to a lack of elite options. However, Tennessee Titans TE Jonnu Smith is among the best targets for those looking to bolster the position. One of the most athletic players in the NFL, Jonnu Smith could find himself on the receiving end of several calls during the 2021 free agency period.
Jonnu Smith was off to a breakout season in 2020 before free agency
The tight end position in the NFL is the shallowest of all skill positions. Unless a team has one of the elite few, the position is always in need of improvement.
The issue is that the tight end position is arguably the hardest one to play at a high level. They need to be big enough to block the best defensive ends in the NFL but agile enough to get separation when running route. Tight ends have to learn not only their specific routes but also the blocking calls on the offensive line. It’s why there are so few elite options. Jonnu Smith was well on his way to joining that group in 2020.
In the first five weeks of 2020, Smith was tied for the league lead in touchdowns (5). He was ninth in receptions with 18 on 27 targets. And his 221 yards in four was eighth for the position. Averaging 12.28 yards per reception, Jonnu Smith was well on his way to a break out season in 2020. Along with a hefty payday.
From Week 6, Jonnu Smith took a backseat in the offense
In his final 11 games, Smith caught 23 of his 38 targets for 227 yards and three touchdowns. He went from averaging 6.8 targets, 4.5 receptions, and 55.3 yards per game to 2.1 receptions on 3.5 targets for 20.6 yards.
The critical factor in this is the injury to LT Taylor Lewan for the Titans. After tearing his ACL in Week 6 against Houston, Tennessee had to change their blocking scheme. Due to this, Jonnu Smith was tasked with playing more inline than he had previously due to his prowess as a blocker.
While it speaks to his versatility and value, it ended what could have been an impressive season. It was still his best season since selected by Tennessee in 2017.
With free agency looming in 2021 for Jonnu Smtih, several teams will be looking at the uber-athletic tight end to fill the hole on their roster.
Where could Jonnu Smith sign during the 2021 free agency period?
When looking at the class, it’s a two-person race. TEs Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith are in a tier of their own. While proven veterans like Rob Gronkowski and Jared Cook will hit the market, their age will play huge roles in their potential suitors.
What is unsure is which tight end will blink first. One is going to set the landscape for the other in 2021 with their new contract. It is hard to tell what their respective camps are telling Henry or Smith until they sign.
One thing that we do know is this 2021 NFL Draft class is loaded at the tight end position. Names like Kyle Pitts, Pat Freiermuth, Brevin Jordan, and even Jeremy Ruckert could all be top players in no time. Both Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry could each take away one of those landing spots before the Draft takes place.
Tennessee would love to bring Jonnu Smith back for 2021 and beyond
Jonnu Smith fits what Tennessee wants to do perfectly. He can block upfront on a run-first team and get out in space, split wide and dominate any linebacker. At 6-foot-3 and 248 pounds, the 26-year-old stud is a matchup nightmare in the red zone too. Toss in a 4.62 40-time, and you have everything you could want in a tight end for years to come.
The issue comes down to money, as does everything in life.
Tennessee has a total of 30 players from their current 53-man roster set to become free agents in 2021 and have to make some difficult decisions. What happens to the salary cap could have an impact on if this is possible for the team. Over The Cap has the Titans projected to have only $7.27 million in space due to salary caps reduction to around $176 million for 2021.
Inside linebacker Jayon Brown, defensive lineman DaQuan Jones, outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, wide receiver Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith are all free agents in 2021. They have some work to do in order to bring Jonnu Smith back.
New England could steal Jonnu Smith in free agency
The Patriots are rebuilding this offense. Yes, they spend picks in 2020 on tight ends, but how long are they willing to wait to see if they develop? Also, how often do you see Bill Belichick talk glowingly about a player on another team? Belichick said this before the team’s playoff game last year.
“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.”
He doesn’t even say that about guys on his team, let alone an opponent. They have the cap space ($63.17 million) and the need for talent. Jonnu Smith coming to New England in free agency makes a lot of sense.
The Jacksonville Jaguars should take a hard look at Jonnu Smith in free agency
After securing the number one pick, we know that Trevor Lawrence will be under center in 2021. When you bring in a franchise QB, you need to give him weapons. And few things can help a rookie QB adjust to the NFL game more than a reliable tight end over the middle.
Tyler Eifert does have one year left on his deal, but the Jaguars do have an out in the contract if they choose to exercise it. Jonnu Smith would be an immediate upgrade and help establish a somewhat sneaky good group of playmakers. D.J. Chark, Laviska Shenault, James Robinson, and Jonnu Smith could all do well together with Lawrence under center.
They also have the most projected cap space in the NFL at $74.42 million. Adding Jonnu Smith in free agency, along with their draft capital, could help get the rebuild off to a quick start in 2021.
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