The New England Patriots’ aggressive offseason saw them make some massive investments across the board, but no position room was rebuilt quite like the tight ends’. Not only did the team add Jonnu Smith on the first day of the free agency tampering period in mid-March, they also brought in Hunter Henry on the very next day.
Smith and Henry had entered the open market as the consensus top two tight ends available, and the Patriots brought them both in.
With those two in the fold, comparisons to other successful tight end groups of the past were naturally drawn quickly. As Henry pointed out after Wednesday’s training camp practice, however, the duo is not trying to copy those that went before it.
“This offense is built for tight ends,” he said. “Obviously, they’ve had a lot of success with two tight ends. We’re clearly different players than the guys in the past. Those guys were great football players, obviously, and have a tremendous legacy here. We’re not trying to be those guys, we’re going to be ourselves and just looking forward to the challenge ahead. But this offense has tradition with two tight ends.”
While New England’s tradition at the tight end position cannot be denied — players such as Rob Gronkowski, Ben Coats or Russ Francis have become franchise legends — the team struggled to field a competitive group as of late. Follow Gronkowski’s departure in 2019, New England hit a rough patch.
In the first post-Gronkowski season, the group caught just 37 passes for 419 yards and 2 touchdowns. One year later, it bottomed out at 18 catches for 254 yards and 1 score.
Needless to say, reinforcements were needed even after the Patriots invested a pair of third-round draft picks in Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene just a year ago. Those reinforcements came in the form of Smith and Henry, and their apparent goal is to bring the glory days of New England tight end performance back.
“Boston TE Party, man. Boston TE Party, let’s bring it back,” Smith said, referencing the productive Rob Gronkowski/Aaron Hernandez duo of the early 2010s.
It remains to be seen whether or not Smith and Henry will be able to challenge the numbers posted by those two players, or other tight end duos of the past, but they certainly are aiming high and seem to be well aware about their potential within the New England offense.
“We’re going to do great things together,” Smith said.
That aspect of being together was mentioned by both players on Wednesday. While Smith called his new teammates a “hell of a player, hell of a tight end, hell of a man,” Henry pointed out that their chemistry will only continue to grow over the coming weeks.
“It’s been good,” he said about his relationship with Smith. “We’ve spent a limited amount of time together, but we’ve spent a good amount of time. That’s only going to build as we get into the trenches together, kind of go through some grind days, and get through some days together. It’s only going to continue to build.”
The Patriots will obviously count on that to happen after having spent a combined $56 million in contractual guarantees on them earlier this year. Money alone does not make a great tight end duo, obviously, but after two sub-par seasons New England needed to make some changes.
They did by investing in a potential “Boston TE Party 2.0.”