Hunter Henry is exactly what the Patriots DON’T need in NFL free agency

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It’s hard sometimes when the facts get in the way of a good story.

(Believe me I know, I write and do talk radio for a living!)

But that’s certainly the case this NFL offseason with the idea that would-be free agent Chargers tight end Hunter Henry and the Patriots are a match made in professional football business heaven.

Sorry, but that just isn’t reality. In fact, Henry is exactly what the Patriots DON’T need.

But let’s rewind this too-good-to-be-true tale just a bit.

Coming off their first playoff-free winter since 2008, the talent-hungry Patriots obviously need an injection of youthful ability at a variety of positions. That certainly includes a tight end depth chart that’s been a non-factor, worst in the NFL, since Rob Gronkowski announced his short-lived retirement two years ago that apparently only pertained to playing for Bill Belichick’s squad.

New England has $60-plus million in salary cap space with which to improve its lackluster roster this offseason. Let the Supermarket Sweep begin!

Having played on the franchise tag last season in L.A., the former first-round pick Henry is universally considered not only the best tight end on the free agent market but one of the top offensive weapons that a team like the Patriots – one that had a mere 12 touchdown receptions last fall, with backup running back Rex Burkhead topping stats with just three – should pursue.
Bidding for his talents is expected to go north of $12 million per season, but that’s nothing for a team like the Patriots with money to spend and needs to be filled.

Throw in Belichick’s apparent affinity for Henry -- whom he gushed about when the Patriots played the Chargers this year and supposedly has followed since the tight end’s days as an Arkansas high school talent – including the coach’s over-the-top hug with the young buck in the postgame on-field masses in L.A. in early December and the marriage just makes too much sense.

As the theory goes, Henry is the perfect fit for the Patriots if they can $omehow convince him New England i$ the place for him even in the mid$t of a rebuild.

Of course there was also once a theory that the world was flat, and we all know how that one worked out. (Sorry Kyrie, too soon?)

The problem with Henry is the inherent problem with building or rebuilding through free agency in almost any sport.

Value.

Return on investment.

Henry is a good player. He’s going to be paid like a great one on the open market, like one of the best tight ends in football, which he most certainly has not been to this point in his career.

Henry has never had a 1,000-yard season in the NFL. Or 900. Or 800. Or 700.

Despite playing with pretty high-level quarterbacks – veteran mainstay Philip Rivers to open his career and pass-happy rookie Justin Herbert this past season – and being surrounded by impressive offensive talent, Henry’s career-high for touchdowns is eight, set back in his rookie season of 2016. He’s had 13 scores combined in the four seasons since.

Henry’s career-high for receptions came this past season with 60, though it also coincided with a career-low 10.2-yard average.

Henry has never played in 16 games in an NFL season.

While the 26-year-old supposedly budding star is perceived to potentially be the apple of Belichick’s free agent eye, he had less yards and touchdowns this past season than Gronkowski had in his return to action in Tampa Bay for what’s seen as the fading days of his once-great Hall of Fame career.

Would Henry become the best tight end on the Patriots upon his arrival in Foxborough? Obviously, but that’s not saying much.

But in terms of a big-money, all-in free agent pursuits, it’s important to note that Henry may have been the fourth-best tight end in the AFC West last fall behind Travis Kelce, Darren Waller and Noah Fant. Sorta puts his overall value in perspective, no?

Henry is the Fool’s Gold that’s abundant in free agency.
The kind that creates long term regret and limits financial flexibility for a team.

Let’s just pretend the Patriots sign Henry to a deal that averages more than $12 million a year, eating up a big chunk of their rebuild budget to become the transformational central figure in a new-look New England offense. And then he goes out and has his usual season of 45-55 catches for 600 yards with a small handful of touchdowns.

How would that be received? Especially in a Patriot Nation that still has visions of Gronk, still remembers what dominant, elite tight end play looks like.

Don’t worry, it’s rhetorical. We all know the answer.

Now, the good news is that it doesn’t look like the Patriots will even have the opportunity to make the Henry mistake in free agency. He’s made it clear that the two things that matter most to him are money (Patriots can do that) and quarterback (New England doesn’t have a starter even written in pencil on the depth chart at this point).

At best, an investment in Henry would be a Patriots investment in disappointment.

At worst it would be the kind flashy, overpriced and unfulfilling purchase that leads spend-happy lottery winners down the path toward bankruptcy.

So, the only thing that might be worse for the Patriots long term than missing out on Henry in free agency this spring and failing to upgrade a dismal tight end depth chart would be actually winning a bidding war for the tight end.

Because despite the story that you’ve been told, the fact is he’s not all that great a player.

As Garth Brooks would sing it – assuming Henry indeed cashes in elsewhere in the coming weeks -- fans might want to thank God for unanswered prayers.