In 2020, the New England Patriots tight end depth chart accounted for 18 receptions, and only one touchdown. These were forgettable statistics in a year that most Patriots fans would rather forget.
Clearly, New England had a palpable problem, and a glaring need to correct it for 2021.
On Tuesday, New England ensured the tight end position would no longer be a source of tension or disappointment. (At least, on paper, that is) One day removed from adding one of the top tight ends on the free agent market, the Pats signed the second. ESPN’s Adam Schefter was the first to report that New England was signing TE Hunter Henry to a three-year, $37.5 million contract, including $25 million in guarantees.
As such, Henry will join the aforementioned Jonnu Smith in forming one of the most balanced and potentially prolific tight end tandems in the NFL.
Henry, a former second-round draft pick by the Los Angeles Chargers in 2016, is a star at his position. In fact, some may make the argument that his star is still on the rise. During his time with the Chargers, Henry compiled 196 career receptions, for 2322 yard and 21 touchdowns. While widely praised for his versatility, he is most productive when playing the traditional “Y” role, accentuating his route running skills, as well as his ability to box out. He has also proven himself a strong blocker and reliable pass catcher. Pairing him alongside a prototypical ‘move’ tight end like Smith, will allow the Patriots to run 12-man personnel, featuring two equally potent tight end options. Combined with a sizable offensive line and a capable running game, the Patriots will be poised to succeed in several play action schemes in 2021; significantly more so than one year ago.
Henry’s signing in New England also unites the talented 26-year-old with Pats’ head coach Bill Belichick. In past meetings between the Chargers and Patriots, Belichick has often been effusive in his praise for Henry. Prior to their December 6 meeting last season, Belichick had the following to say about the then ‘Bolts tight end:
“Henry continues to be a complete and very good football player for them [Chargers.] He’s really been a great player, watched him pretty much his whole career. He started at Pulaski Academy down in Little Rock, Ark., played for coach (Kevin) Kelley down there, had a great career there, went to Arkansas. Had a great career at Arkansas, went to the Chargers and with (Virgil) Green out, he’s really played the Y role this year. And he’s shown good ability to block, catch, runs a variety of routes.”
In the coming weeks, Belichick will get the chance to coach Hunter Henry, a player on whom he has had his ‘sharp eye’ for quite sometime.
-Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor and Columnist for Full Press Coverage. He covers the New England Patriots and provides NFL editorial content. He is also the host of the Locked On Patriots podcast. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC