Transaction Implication: Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry Sign With Patriots

by Aaron Stewart · Contracts & Free Agency

The two best tight ends of the 2021 free agency class were Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry, with the public divided on who was No. 1 and who was No. 2. The New England Patriots, who targeted tight ends the fewest times in 2020 (33 targets), signed Smith on the first day of free agency. With Smith off the table, fantasy analysts speculated where Henry would sign. Would he join the Colts since Carson Wentz loves to target the position? How about joining the Panthers, Jets, or Bills after they all tried (and failed) to develop young, homegrown talent at the position? The Seahawks and Saints would have salary cap manipulating to do, but would be enticing fantasy destinations for the unanimous top tight end left on the board.

Wait, the Patriots signed Henry too? Hear that? That’s the sound of the collective groan from Smith and Henry dynasty managers.


The Contracts

Jonnu Smith secured the most guaranteed money at the signing of a contract ($31.25 million) among all tight ends in the NFL, and the second-most total guaranteed money for a tight end behind George Kittle‘s $40 million.

Jonnu Smith’s Contract via Spotrac

Smith’s four-year, $50 million contract sees his 2021 and 2022 salaries fully guaranteed, and the Patriots won’t receive significant financial relief from moving on from him until after the 2023 season, where they can save $12 million on the 2024 salary cap.

Hunter Henry’s Contract via Spotrac

Despite signing a contract with one less season than Smith, Hunter Henry‘s average annual salary of $12.5 million matches Smith’s average annual salary. Another similarity in Henry’s contract is that his 2021 and 2022 salaries are fully guaranteed. During the entirety of his three-year contract length, he will have a higher cap hit on the team’s yearly salary caps than Smith. The Patriots can move on from Henry after the 2022 season before his cap hit increases to $15.5 million in 2023. Smith’s 2023 cap hit will be $14.75 million.

2023 Tight End Cap Hits

With over $30 million in cap hits tied to the two tight ends in 2023, the Patriots will have to choose who to keep between the two. Moving on from Henry will free up $10.5 million, while releasing Smith will only generate $1 million in cap savings. Dynasty managers of Smith and Henry will begrudgingly accept that their tight end’s fantasy value is capped by the other for at least the next two seasons.

Efficiency vs. Opportunity

Over the past two seasons, Jonnu Smith‘s efficiency metrics are almost inimitable. Smith has utilized his 127.0 (93rd-percentile among qualified tight ends) SPARQ-x score to maximize each route run and target received. During this time, he has finished in the top-10 in Fantasy Points Per Route Run and logged back-to-back seasons as the No. 3 tight end in Fantasy Points Per Target.

Jonnu Smith 2020 Efficiency Metrics

I’m less concerned with the impact on Smith’s Lifetime Value than Hunter Henry‘s for two reasons. One, Smith has a track record of producing 10.0 (No. 12) Fantasy Points per Game, despite a majority of his opportunity metrics landing outside the top-15. Second, Henry’s past two seasons were back-end TE1 seasons, but were driven by heavy opportunity-based metrics. Most notable, Henry’s previous team finished with 41.3 (No. 5) and 39.4 (No. 10) Team Pass Plays Per Game in 2020 and 2019, respectively. In those two seasons, he finished with 92 (No. 7) and 76 (No. 12) Targets. Meanwhile, Smith’s previous team finished with averages of 31.8 (No. 30) and 31.5 (No. 30) Team Pass Plays Per Game.

Despite Henry’s 4.4 (No. 45) Weekly Volatility rating making him the more consistent fantasy performer in 2020 compared to Smith and his 6.8 (No. 10) mark, Smith’s efficiency is the better bet to take in 2021. He has produced in a reduced offensive role on a pass-averse offense before, while we are uncertain if Henry can do the same if he no longer sees top-12 targets on a pass-friendly team.

In redraft, it’s best to avoid both Henry (94.13 FFPC ADP) and Smith (111.00 FFPC ADP). However, if managers are playing best ball fantasy football in 2021, then stacking Henry and Smith will be advantageous. The Patriots invested heavily in the tight end duo while opting against signing a Kenny Golladay, Will Fuller, or other top-tier wide receiver option. Expectations are that the passing offense will go through Henry and Smith, with weekly roles determined by the defenses they face.

Dynasty Impact

Cam Newton is a buy in dynasty leagues even after the upgrades to his offensive arsenal in Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, and Nelson Agholor. Usually, a buying opportunity for a quarterback quashes when his NFL team improves his weapons. PlayerProfiler subscribers are able to see that our dynasty rankings are updated frequently, and his Lifetime Value increased by 2.25 points after the additions, as it should. Using the Dynasty Deluxe’s Trade Finder shows that dynasty leagues have not corrected their valuations of Newton. The following trade was completed a week AFTER Smith, Henry, and Agholor signed with the Patriots:

Cam Newton Trade Analyzer

A mistake that people make in trading is that they acquire players on past performances instead of future projections. As a passer, Newton was putrid last season with a 71.2-percent (No. 28) True Completion Percentage and a 73.9-percent (No. 35) Catchable Pass Rate contributing to his -11.3 (No. 28) Production Premium. Thank goodness his Supporting Cast Efficiency will be better in 2021 than the -3.97 (No. 22) mark it received in 2020.

Cam Newton’s 2020 ‘Weapons’

Newton made up with his abysmal passing stats by averaging 9.1 (No. 2) Carries Per Game and leading the NFL with 42 Red Zone Carries and 12 Rushing Touchdowns. His rushing ability allowed him to average 17.8 (No. 16) Fantasy Points per Game, despite throwing eight (No. 34) Passing Touchdowns. Entering his age-32 season, Newton’s passing efficiency numbers were near the bottom of the league on an offense that lacked top receiving options. Last season’s QB16 finish in FPPG is his floor in fantasy football.

Remember When Josh Allen Didn’t Have Weapons in 2019?

Improved weapons leading to improved passing efficiency can be accomplished. Look no further than New England’s division rival in Buffalo. Newton’s 2020 season resembled Josh Allen‘s 2019 season, and everyone saw what a Stefon Diggs addition did for Allen this past year. It’s not unfathomable that a Jonnu SmithHunter Henry tight end duo may have a similar impact on Newton’s upcoming season.

Cam Newton is Cheap!

Newton is the perfect quarterback for championship contenders to target in a trade if they have uncertainty at the position. As of this writing, there is ongoing sexual assault allegations against Deshaun Watson that may result in a league suspension. Ryan Tannehill lost Arthur Smith, the play-caller that revitalized his career. These quarterbacks helped lead teams to championships, but now those same teams face uncertainty at the quarterback position. Capitalize on rookie fever to acquire a cheap quarterback in SuperFlex leagues! A 2021 third-rounder for a quarterback with backend QB1 potential in 2021? Yes, please!