Several household names are looking for new teams to call home with the NFL free agency set to kick off in mere days. One such player in need of a new landing spot is Tennessee Titans TE Jonnu Smith. One of the most athletic players at his position, Smith could be a massive weapon to a new offense.
Update March 15: According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, former Titans TE Jonnu Smith has reached an agreement with the New England Patriots. Smith signed a four-year deal worth $50 million with $31.25 million fully guaranteed.
Jonnu Smith was off to a breakout year in 2020 as free agency loomed
The issue is that the tight end position is arguably the hardest at the NFL level. Tight ends need to be big enough to block the best defensive ends in the NFL but agile enough to run routes. Tight ends have to learn their specific routes and the blocking calls. 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 amongst tight ends with 18 on 27 targets. His 221 yards in four games was eighth for the position. Averaging 12.28 yards per reception, Jonnu Smith was inching towards a breakout season in 2020, along with a hefty payday in his contract year.
On the Tennessee passing offense, Jonnu Smith played an integral role as the TE1. After three seasons of Delanie Walker running the show, it was Smith’s turn to take over. Unfortunately, Jonnu Smith’s production quickly tapered off as his role changed.
From Week 6 on, TE Jonnu Smith took a backseat in the Tennessee offense
In his final 11 games, Smith caught 23 of his 38 targets for 227 yards and 3 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 equation 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 Tennessee selected him in 2017.
With free agency looming in 2021 for Jonnu Smith, he should have no issue finding a new landing spot in free agency as several teams will be looking at the uber-athletic Titans TE to fill the hole on their roster.
Will a reduced salary cap impact TEs like Jonnu Smith in free agency pursuing new landing spots in 2021?
Due to lost revenue of the 2020 season, the NFL salary cap took a massive hit. Adam Schefter recently reported the 2021 salary cap will be $182.5 million. Teams are cash-strapped and need to make difficult decisions regarding veterans and how bullish they can be in free agency.
When it comes to free-agent tight ends, this could have considerable implications, especially for Jonnu Smith. He will likely receive the cohort’s second-largest contract. It is not a great year to be a free agent, regardless of the position. However, Spotrac has Smith with an estimated market value of $8 million per year on a five-year, $40.381 million contract.
As he leaves the Titans, where are some potential landing spots for TE Jonnu Smith in 2021?
The New England Patriots make sense as a potential landing spot for Jonnu Smith in free agency
In saying this, I am not trying to imply that New England is some incredible landing spot for tight ends based on Rob Gronkowski. Gronk is an all-time great, and it was a symbiotic relationship. While we know they can feature a tight end, we can’t expect anyone who goes there to be an immediate elite option.
The issue for the Patriots is they are an offense devoid of any talent. Last year, the Patriots drafted two tight ends, and 97% of football fans outside of Boston can’t even name them. New England just re-signed Cam Newton to a $14 million contract, and it would be utter lunacy not to improve the playmakers yet still expect a better offense.
Sitting with the third-most cap space ($65.892 million), the offense needs a complete overhaul. The question then becomes, would Bill Belichick be willing to get into a bidding war to acquire former Titans TE Jonnu Smith in free agency?
The Jacksonville Jaguars should take a hard look at Jonnu Smith in free agency
After securing the No. 1 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 is a free agent, leaving the starting spot for the Jaguars a gaping hole. 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.
If TE Jonnu Smith chose the Buffalo Bills as a landing spot, this could push them over the top
The Buffalo Bills have firmly established themselves as one of the teams to beat in the NFL. QB Josh Allen has emerged into one of the best QBs, and his connection with Stefon Diggs is a match made in football heaven. One spot where they could use an upgrade, however, is at tight end.
Dawson Knox has been serviceable, but he’s not a difference-maker. Over his two seasons, Knox has caught 52 of 94 targets for 676 yards and 5 touchdowns. Bringing in Jonnu Smith would allow Sean McDermott to get creative with 12 personnel, giving the offense more flexibility.
The Bills’ main hurdle being a landing spot for Jonnu Smith will be cap space for Buffalo. According to Spotrac, they are an estimated $8.891 million under the cap.
Could the Packers add Titans TE Jonnu Smith in free agency?
Coming into 2020, there was this whole narrative that Aaron Rodgers does not use tight ends. That was false. It was the talent on the team rather than a blindspot to the position. We saw this last year as Robert Tonyan exploded onto the scene, scoring 11 touchdowns. Interestingly enough, he is also a tight end searching for a new landing spot in free agency.
The combination of Jonnu Smith and Davante Adams in the red zone is a scary thought for the NFC North.
The Arizona Cardinals are an under-the-radar landing spot for Jonnu Smith with a massive need
After signing J.J. Watt, it appears the Arizona Cardinals are going all-in. If that is the case, giving Kyler Murray a reliable tight end would be a prudent move by the organization.
In 2020, the trio of Dan Arnold, Darrell Daniels, and Maxx Williams combined for 66 targets, 52 receptions, 632 yards, and 5 touchdowns. However, Arnold is a free agent, leaving a large portion of the target share available for Jonnu Smith to soak up.
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