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2021 NFL free agency: Hunter Henry’s contract follows the example of other Patriots deals this week

Related: Patriots free agency analysis: Hunter Henry gives New England a second starting-caliber tight end

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Las Vegas Raiders Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Based on first reports, the New England Patriots spent more than $250 million in total contractual value on the first two days of the NFL’s legal tampering period alone: they signed eight outside players and also kept two of their in-house free agents in the fold. As always, however, the initially reported numbers show only a fragment of the picture and need more details to be properly assessed.

Those details, at least when it comes to two more of the deals signed by the Patriots early during the legal tampering window on Monday and Tuesday, have now been reported by Over the Cap’s Jason Fitzgerald and ESPN’s Mike Reiss: tight end Hunter Henry and defensive lineman Henry Anderson signed two- and three-year pacts with the Patriots, respectively.

Let’s take a look at how those deals are built and what that means for New England.

TE Hunter Henry: Three years, $37.4 million

  • Salary: $19.5 million
  • Signing bonus: $15 million
  • Roster bonuses: $2.88 million
  • Cap numbers: $6.88 million (2021), $15 million (2022), $15.5 million (2023)

Alongside Jonnu Smith, who was also added by the Patriots earlier this week, Hunter Henry was seen as the top tight end available in this year’s free agency. New England compensated him accordingly by giving him a three-year contract that includes $24 million in guarantees. Given those, Henry appears to be a safe bet to be on the team’s roster for at least the next two seasons — all while joining Smith as one of the highest paid tight ends in football.

For a more comprehensive breakdown, please take a look at this graphic by Miguel Benzan.

DT Henry Anderson: Two years, $7 million

  • Salary: $3.5 million
  • Signing bonus: $2 million
  • Roster bonuses: $1.5 million
  • Cap numbers: $2.75 million (2021), $4.25 million (2022)

Almost two weeks after his release from the New York Jets, Henry Anderson agreed to join their AFC East rivals in New England via a two-year contract worth a total of $7 million. The deal itself is a fair one for both parties: Anderson is essentially guaranteed a spot on the Patriots’ 53-man roster this year, while the team itself is bolstering its interior defensive line at a relatively small cost. The veteran is currently ranked just 24th on the list of cap hits on New England’s pay roll.

For a more comprehensive breakdown, please take a look at this graphic by Miguel Benzan.

Patriots analysis

While both contracts are noteworthy in their own right, Hunter Henry’s obviously stands out among the two. His yearly average value of $12.5 million, after all, ties him with Jonnu Smith for the third largest such number in the league behind only the San Francisco 49ers’ George Kittle ($15 million/year) and the Kansas City Chiefs’ Travis Kelce ($14.3 million/year).

New England paying market value for not one but two tight ends might have come as a surprise, but it is an obvious signal that the team was unhappy with its tight end production the last two years. Henry and Smith will help address the issues at the position, and the Patriots are using similarly structured deals to allow them to do just that: their cap numbers for the 2021 season are comparatively small at $6.88 million and $5.69 million, respectively, but will increase alongside the league-wide cap in the coming years.

The Patriots are therefore continuing to take advantage of the market while simultaneously banking on the league’s revenue to bounce back in 2022 and beyond. Given that this is the expectation, back-loading contracts such as Henry’s is a smart move.