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Patriots 2023 offseason preview: Will the tight end group finally reach its potential?

Our position-by-position offseason analysis continues at the tight end position.

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New England Patriots v Cleveland Browns Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Four teams are left standing in the NFL playoffs, but the New England Patriots are not among them. Finishing the regular season with an 8-9 record, they failed to qualify for the tournament and are already on to the offseason.

It projects to be an interesting one for the team. On the one hand, it is coming off a disappointing year that saw especially the offense fall short of its expectations — a fact that has already led to some changes on the coaching staff. On the other hand, however, the Patriots are among the league leaders in offseason resources and already have plenty of young building-block-type players under contract.

With all that in mind, let’s break down where the Patriots stand at this point in time by looking at each position individually. Today, we continue things at tight end.

Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | Offensive tackle | Interior offensive line | Interior defensive line | Defensive edge | Off-the-ball linebacker | Cornerback | Safety | Special teams

Final 2022 depth chart

Hunter Henry: For a second straight year, Henry was the Patriots’ top option at tight end both in terms of playing time and actual touches. The 28-year-old finished the season with 797 offensive snaps (75.8%) as well as 41 catches for 509 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He ranked third on the team in all three categories, and first among its skill position players in playing time.

Jonnu Smith: Smith served as New England’s TE2 for a second straight year, and his production once again fell short of both expectation and price tag. Playing on a cap hit of $8.4 million, he caught just 27 passes for 245 yards; he also carried the ball just once for a 5-yard gain. Missing three total games due to ankle and concussion issues, Smith ended the season with 423 offensive snaps (40.2%)

Matt Sokol (PS): Offseason pickup Matt Sokol spent the entire 2022 season on the Patriots’ practice squad. He was elevated to the game-day roster on three different occasions and ended the year with 34 snaps between offense and special teams, but he registered no statistics.

Scotty Washington (PS): Washington joined the New England practice squad in late September, and ended up seeing action in one game — coincidentally against his former team, Cincinnati. He played 22 snaps that day and did not catch any passes, but he did have an assist when he deflected a ball back to Jakobi Meyers for a touchdown.

Position assessment

The Patriots have been dying for some production from the tight end position since Rob Gronkowski retired after the 2018 season. Hunter Henry had a pretty good year in 2021, but couldn’t make much of an impact for most of 2022. They started throwing to him later in the year, though, and he has proven he can be a contributor when given the chance.

Jonnu Smith, on the other hand, has shown almost nothing since his arrival alongside Henry in 2021. He isn’t a polished route runner, and the coaching staff seemed hesitant to draw up plays for him. He has shown he can be a dynamic player, but his production does not line up with New England’s financial investment at this point.

Matt Sokol and Scotty Washington are two guys who were on and off the game-day this year, but they did not do much of anything. There is no guarantee they will be back next season, even as depth.

Offseason preview

Fact is, the Patriots need to get better production out of its tight end group. It is not quite certain where the answer is going to come from, though. Either they need a new playmaker at tight end to replace or complement the current options, or an offensive system that emphasizes the talent it has under contract at the position.

Heading into the 2023 offseason and after signing both Sokol and Washington to futures contracts, the Patriots have all four members of their 2022 tight end group signed for the upcoming year.

  • Hunter Henry: $15.5 million salary cap hit | Signed through 2023
  • Jonnu Smith: $17.23 million salary cap hit | Signed through 2024
  • Matt Sokol: $870,000 salary cap hit | Signed through 2023
  • Scotty Washington: $750,000 salary cap hit | Signed through 2023

Level of concern: Medium