Welcome to the new-look New England TE party!


Over the next couple weeks, WEEI.com will take a position-by-position look at the Patriots rebuilt roster heading into training camp 2021. What’s the depth chart look like? What’s the biggest question at each position? How might the competition at each spot unfold this summer under Bill Belichick’s watchful eye? Today we look at the restocked tight end spot.

Tight end

Roster: Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Devin Asiasi, Matt LaCosse, Dalton Keene, Troy Fumagalli, Rashod Berry (TE/DE)

Key Additions: Smith (FA, Titans), Henry (FA, Chargers)

Key Losses: Ryan Izzo (Trade, Texans)

Predicted Starters: Smith, Henry

Notes: New England’s tight ends combined for just 18 catches for 254 yards and one touchdown in 2020. … Izzo, now in Houston, led the team with 13 receptions for 199 yards. … Henry arrives on a three-year, $37.5 million deal with a $15 million signing bonus. … Smith inked a four-year free agent deal worth $50 million with a $15 million signing bonus. … Each has a $12.5 million average value on his contract, tied for third-highest in the NFL at the position. … The former third-round pick Smith is coming off his best NFL season in which he set four-year career highs in catches (41), yards (448) and touchdowns (8). … Henry also set a career best with 60 catches for the Chargers last fall, the former first-round pick’s fifth NFL season. Henry’s top yardage season was 652 in 2019, while his career high in touchdowns came with 8 in his rookie season of 2016.

Biggest Question: Will Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith see their production on the field this fall grow as much as their paychecks did in free agency?

Snapshot Analysis: The Patriots tight end position wasn’t just bad last season, it was essentially a non-existent hole in the Cam Newton-led offense. Given Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels’ affinity for tight ends – including the glory days at the position of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez – it’s no surprise that New England invested in improving the spot via free agency. What was a surprise was that after jumping into the open market to snag Smith, New England did a double-dip by adding Henry as well. Nearly $90 million later the Patriots acquired the top two tight ends available. This, a year after drafting a pair in Asiasi and Keene. Now, the question is whether the Patriots get the proper return on their investment in tight end over the last two years. To do that, Smith and Henry will have to not only be the centerpieces of the offense but also put up numbers beyond what they’ve previously achieved. Both seem capable of that, with Smith’s athletic, run-after-catch ability giving him the potential for breakout success in his new offense. While Smith skipped OTAs and missed most of minicamp to what looked like a hamstring injury, Henry had a solid spring and it would be stunning if he didn’t put forth contributions at the very least in line with his past numbers in L.A./S.D. After a somewhat derailed rookie season, Asiasi also quietly had a strong spring and could actually give the Patriots a trio of passing game playmaking options. Keene is a wildcard in the group, a versatile jack-of-all-trades who may straddle the lien between tight end and fullback (as well as special teams work) if he’s to carve out a role for himself. The veteran LaCosse returns after missing last season as a COVID opt-out but may no longer have a spot on the roster. While the Patriots may not be back to the days of Gronk and Hernandez, New England should get significantly more production out of the tight end spot that given questions at wide receiver could very well be leaned on as the foundation for the overall passing game. Good? Great? Time will tell, but it will certainly be better than it’s been the last couple years. Belichick bet Robert Kraft’s money on that.

Position Rating: Good to very good

Featured Image Photo Credit: New England Patriots