NFL Free Agency: Winners and Losers at the TE Position

Story posted March 19, 2021 in Sports, CommRadio by Emma Holtz

The tight end position has gained considerable buzz as the March 17 contract deadline came and went. A number of tight ends are already contracted to new organizations with many more still in search of a signing.

2021’s tight end free agency has an unmatched caliber of talent. Many are reaping the rewards of a flexible salary cap while others are forced to say goodbye to key players. Here are the current winners and losers of the NFL tight end market as it stands now.

Winner: New England Patriots

Bill Belichick and the Patriots are the jackpot winners of 2021’s tight end free agency market. The organization acquired the top two tight ends currently available this year, which stacks an offense in need of more passing-game production.

Ex-Tennessee Titans tight end Jonnu Smith will sport the red, white and blue this year with an impressive four-year, $50 million deal with $31.25 million guaranteed. A product of the Florida International Football Program, Smith’s targeting was limited to just 41 receptions and eight touchdowns throughout the 2020 season. However, Smith said in an interview that he knows how to be versatile on the field and run non-traditional routes to get points on the board.

Former Los Angeles Chargers tight end Hunter Henry signed a hefty three-year, $37.5 million deal with the Patriots with $25 million guaranteed according to NFL insider Adam Schefter and ESPN. He is just behind his new teammate Smith for the third-largest guaranteed money amount by the Patriots, who have shelled out over $130 million in pursuit of top talent.

Henry hit it off with Chargers rookie quarterback Justin Herbert with 93 total targets and 60 receptions, which are both career personal records for Henry. As he transitions to Foxborough, the opportunity to work alongside Smith and establish dominance in Belichick’s tight end position should excite any wary New England fan.

Winner: Seattle Seahawks

The acquisition of former Rams tight end Gerald Everett is a much-needed win for the ‘Hawks, especially as rumors of disgruntlement between star quarterback Russell Wilson and the organization loom in the media headlines.

Coming in at 6 feet 3 inches and 240 pounds, Everett’s four-year résumé with the Rams boasts 127 total receptions and 1,389 yards—he gained 417 of those during the 2020 season. His advantage in blocking is another weapon in his arsenal for the Seahawks to utilize.

Everett’s one-year deal with Seattle is valued at $7 million with $6 million guaranteed. The organization’s decision to sign a tight end with blocking abilities should be music to Wilson’s ears, as he continues to call out his employer for not protecting him. Everett provides ample opportunity for the Seahawks to keep a competitive edge in the NFC West.

Winner & Loser: Los Angeles Chargers

The Los Angeles Chargers are a special case in 2021’s tight end market, as they have both lost and gained notable players at the position due to cap availability. 

The biggest loss to the Chargers’ offense is Hunter Henry, who is headed to Foxborough and a new division. While the 26-year-old missed a few games with a place on the COVID-19 reserve list as well as an injury early on, he established himself as a reliable target for Herbert and represents a big opportunity for New England to capitalize on.

With the loss of Henry comes the acquisition of former New Orleans Saints tight end Jared Cook. Cook’s 12 seasons in the NFL mean that he’s experienced his fair share of quarterbacks across six total teams. His experience playing for Joe Lombardi will be crucial, as the Chargers welcomed Lombardi as their new offensive coordinator after five seasons with the Saints.

Loser: Carolina Panthers

The Carolina Panthers have some rebuilding to do at the tight end position due to the departure of tight end Chris Manhertz.

While Manhertz is headed to Jacksonville to play with newly christened head coach Urban Meyer and the Jaguars, he did manage to add versatility to the Panthers’ offense despite only having 142 career receiving yards. His built frame helped the Panthers trust his edge protection and make opportunities for big plays. Manhertz’s new contract is $7.25 million for two years with $4.25 guaranteed according to Adam Schefter and CBS Sports.

While he did not produce as efficiently as other powerhouses at the tight end position, Manhertz leaves the Panthers with very few options to replace him. The recent signings for the Panthers trend towards offensive linemen rather than finding a suitable tight end match for current starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

Winner: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The reigning Super Bowl champions are fighting to keep their elite squad all together for the upcoming 2021 season. So far, the Buccaneers have succeeded by signing veteran tight end Rob Gronkowski to a one-year, $10 million deal. The 31-year-old tight end now has four Super Bowl titles to his name.

However, the landscape could have looked much different. Gronkowski received an offer from the Buffalo Bills valued up to $10 million for one year with total incentives according to CBS Sports.

Gronkowski ultimately turned down the tempting offer from his hometown to stay loyal to quarterback Tom Brady and the Bucs. He will continue to grow his 566 career receptions and 8,484 yards in Tampa Bay.

 

Emma Holtz is a freshman majoring in public relations. To contact her, email exh5337@psu.edu.