The New England Patriots continue to spend in free agency, this time agreeing to terms on a three-year, $37.5 million deal with tight end Hunter Henry.
Didn’t see that one coming, did ya? Maybe the Pats intend to play four-tight end base sets!
Kidding aside, the move comes less than 24 hours after Bill Belichick and Co. lured free-agent tight end Jonnu Smith away from the Tennessee Titans. Henry, a 26-year-old former Los Angeles Charger goes from a rising star at quarterback to a flickering one in Cam Newton, but as discussed in our free agency roundup, Superman entered just about the worst possible scenario for success in 2020.
At his best as a passer, Newton was reliant on the tight end position, and he had a competent running game to help establish play-action passing. The Patriots have retooled the offensive line at right tackle but still will take a hit after losing star guard Joe Thuney in free agency. The center position also has to be addressed. But, in theory, since the ends of the line are solid enough, Henry shouldn’t be asked to block an excessive amount.
After a flurry of moves to open the legal-tampering period, New England has now added a deep threat in wide receiver Nelson Agholor, and the aforementioned Smith is a downfield asset from the tight end position. Henry is coming off a personal-best 14-game season in which he posted a career-high 60 receptions. Los Angeles franchise tagged him a season ago and simply couldn’t make the numbers come together, despite having a bunch of cap space. That speaks to Henry’s extensive injury history, and while the Pats spent up for his market value, we don’t know the structure of the deal. Also having Smith provides more than enough cushion in case Henry once again falls to injury.
Last year, he missed time after being placed on the COVID-19 list. In 2019, Henry was lost four games worth of action from a fracture in his knee, a year after he missed an entire season with a torn ACL. Henry has yet to play a full campaign in his five-year career.
Fantasy football takeaway
There will be weeks Henry and Smith overshadow one another. It’s bound to happen, and gamers will have to accept it prior to drafting either player. The Patriots have plenty of targets to distribute to keep both players relevant more often than not, and the system has made two tight ends relevant before in past years.
It all comes back to whether Newton having a full year-plus to digest a complex system and finally entering an offseason health are enough to get his career back on track. The Patriots will rely heavily on the ground game to take pressure off of Newton and also set up the play-action passing attack.
Henry should be the primary intermediate target between he and Smith, especially in the red zone, and the former Charger can flex into the slot. Versatility also allows Smith to move around, too, and we all know how much Belichick loves to focus on exploiting mismatches.
The volume should be down after a personal best in that regard last year. The best way for Henry to match or exceed past success is by drastically increasing his role in the red zone. More trips to the end zone is the best bet gamers have if Henry is to be held in the same esteem as he was while being the main tight end in LA. In New England, he won’t have a reception hog in the vein of Keenan Allen, although there’s still a soon-to-be 35-year-old named Julian Edelman who may have something to say about it.
Henry will be closer to a rotational tight end than an automatic starter in standard-scoring fantasy, but he has low-tier TE1 value in PPR drafts. Be prepared to traverse what could be a bumpy ride, though, in terms of weekly consistency.