After two straight seasons of abysmal tight end play, the New England Patriots decided to open the checkbook last offseason and completely rebuild the position group. As a result, the two best players available on the open market were brought aboard on multi-year deals: Jonnu Smith signed a four-year, $50 million contract; Hunter Henry signed a three-year, $37.5 million deal.
Smith and Henry served as the top two options at the position in 2021, with the latter in particular standing out. Henry built an instant connection with quarterback Mac Jones and ended the year with 51 receptions for 633 yards and a team-high nine touchdowns. Smith was comparatively quiet in his first year in the system, catching 28 passes for 294 yards and a score.
Nonetheless, he and Henry will continue to be the one-two punch moving forward. They are also among four TEs under contract for this upcoming season:
- Hunter Henry
- Jonnu Smith
- Devin Asiasi
- Dalton Keene
Third-round draft picks in 2020, both Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene have disappointed so far. The two did not tip the scales as rookies and were no-factors last season: Asiasi played but one game, while Keene missed the entire year due to injury.
The Patriots might decide to add some competition to the fold this offseason, but no big moves should be expected — especially in free agency. The team already made significant investments last year, after all, and will likely only add player who could realistically compete against Asiasi and Keene.
The following come to mind as potential targets should New England decide to do just that:
Pharaoh Brown (UFA): Brown has the size to become a package-specific player, who also possesses plenty of experience in the blocking department. His receiving prowess is nothing to write home about, however: in five years in the NFL, Brown has caught just 39 passes for 361 yards and three touchdowns.
Jared Cook (UFA): The Patriots already tried to acquire Cook back in 2019, but he opted to sign in New Orleans instead. Three years later, Cook is available once again. While he is coming off a solid season, his age — Cook will turn 35 in April — will likely prevent him from signing a significant contract. This, in turn, could make him an attractive target for New England.
Ross Dwelley (UFA): Dwelley’s main contributions to a football team do not come through his receiving skills but rather his blocking. He has plenty of experience as a blocker, and would therefore help fill a void in New England’s offense: the Patriots did not have a true blocking tight end available in 2021, despite their investments in Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith.
Anthony Firkser (UFA): Firkser had a solid four-year career with the Tennessee Titans, but the 27-year-old will likely not break the bank in free agency; his receiving numbers — he had 34 catches for 291 yards and two scores last season — will prevent him from cashing in. That said, he would be a solid addition for the Patriots as a third option behind Henry and Smith
Jesse James (UFA): Patriots fans might remember James for his much-discussed no-catch against New England as a member of the 2017 Pittsburgh Steelers. The 27-year-old is set to enter free agency this year, and he will do so off three rather uninspiring seasons in Detroit and Chicago. If the Patriots believe they can turn him into a serviceable TE3, however, they might give him a look.
Tyler Kroft (UFA): The Patriots are no strangers to bringing division rivals on board in free agency. Kroft spent time in Buffalo and New York, and would offer experienced depth to compete with Asiasi and Keene. He would serve as an in-line player capable of helping out in the running game and, given his 6-foot-6 frame, the red area.
Geoff Swaim (UFA): Coming off the most productive season of his career, Swaim might become a popular player in free agency. That said, his receiving upside is still limited — he had 31 catches for 210 yards and three TDs in 2021 — while his value comes primarily as a blocker. He has shown that he can play at a solid level in the league, but he is probably best suited to fill a complementary role.
Maxx Williams (UFA): Coming off a torn ACL, Williams will likely not generate a lively market in free agency. That said, he is a solid player capable of helping both as a situational receiver and blocker. As such, he might be worth bringing aboard to compete for a roster spot as a depth option.
At the end of the day, the Patriots will likely give Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene another chance to prove themselves. While one or two of the players listed above might come aboard on low-cost deals, whoever is added (or stays put) will play only a marginal role on the New England tight end depth chart — if they even make the roster over Asiasi and Keene.