The New England Patriots started free agency with a bang. Just one hour into the legal tampering period, the team addressed arguably the weakest position group on its roster by signing Jonnu Smith to a four-year contract with a maximum value of $50 million. The move was a sign of things to come, and one that instantly upgraded the Patriots’ tight end room.
Despite his status as a top-two tight end available on the open market — the other, Hunter Henry, also ended up in New England — there are some questions surrounding Smith. Not only 125 passes for 1,389 yards and 17 touchdowns in four seasons with the Tennessee Titans, he also has a somewhat extensive injury history.
Let’s take a closer look at it to find out what his medical record means from the Patriots’ perspective.
2015 (Florida International): Coming off a productive sophomore season at FIU, Smith’s junior campaign was less successful. He managed to catch 36 passes for 397 yards and four touchdowns, but also had to miss the final four games of the season after suffering a sprained left knee. Before being shut down for the rest of the season, however, Smith caught a career-high 10 passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns against Old Dominion — all while already being hurt.
2016 (Florida International): Smith’s college career also ended on the sideline, but not due to an injury. In November of his senior campaign, his girlfriend poured boiling water over him during an argument. According to the arrest affidavit at the time, Smith suffered severe burns on his head, neck and back, as well as one shoulder and an arm.
2017 (Titans): After entering the NFL as a third-round draft pick, Smith saw comparatively limited action behind veteran Delanie Walker. He still managed to catch 21 passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns, but during a divisional playoff loss against the Patriots suffered a torn MCL in his right knee. Despite the injury suffered in mid-January, Smith was good to go the following offseason.
2018 (Titans): With Walker suffering a season-ending injury on opening day, Smith saw increased action in his second NFL campaign. Just like his fist, however, it ended due to a torn MCL: he suffered the injury in early December against the Jacksonville Jaguars. This time around, however, he was unable to return right away. Smith missed minicamp and organized team activities because of the recovery process, and later stated the 2019 training camp on Tennessee’s physically unable to perform list; he was activated in mid-August and went on to appear in all 19 of the Titans’ games during the 2019 season.
2020 (Titans): Smith had to deal with a myriad of minor ailments during the 2020 season. Ahead of Tennessee’s Week 3 game versus the Minnesota Vikings, he missed one practice session due to an ankle injury. He was able to play in the game, though, and finished with five catches — tying a season-high — for 61 yards.
Three weeks later, leading up to the Titans’ Week 6 matchup with the Houston Texans, Smith missed one practice due to a quad issue. He once again was able to suit up on game day, however, and recorded one catch for 13 yards before spraining his right ankle.
The ankle injury did not keep him out for long, though. While he was unable to finish the game against the Texans, Smith did not miss any practice time the following week: he was listed as limited on Wednesday before being upgraded to “full participant” status one day later. He eventually played 40 offensive snaps against the Pittsburgh Steelers and caught one 9-yard pass.
Coming off a Week 12 game against the Indianapolis Colts that saw him play 54 snaps but not register any statistics, Smith was unable to practice and eventually missed the following Sunday’s game versus the Cleveland Browns due to a knee injury. It was his first missed contest since the 2018 season.
What this means for the Patriots
Even though Smith’s injury history has plenty of entries, the Patriots apparently are not concerned about it: they gave him $25 million in guarantees as part of his four-year contract — a reflection of how they evaluate his status as a starting-level tight end as well as his projected availability.
New England has good reason to feel confident. While Smith suffered some minor ailments throughout his career, his season-ending injuries are no cause for concern; neither are the other medical issues he had to deal with. While the occasional bumps and bruises have to be expected given the position he plays, him missing only one game over the last two seasons is encouraging and a reflection of his physical toughness.