Now-former LA Chargers tight end Hunter Henry got the brinks truck backed up for him by the New England Patriots. On Monday, former Titans’ tight end Jonnu Smith agreed to a four-year, $50 million deal with the Patriots. Henry signed for about the same in average annual value, but for one less year. 3 years, $37.5 million. That gives Henry a chance to go back into the market at 30.
With the deal Henry signed, he is just $1.5 million in AAV behind Travis Kelce and $2.5 million behind George Kittle. Henry has shown flashes of being a top-five guy at times, but he’s not nearly as valuable as those guys currently.
Why Hunter Henry was not worth top tight end money from the LA Chargers:
In terms of YAC, Henry isn’t exactly a high-end producer. Just considering tight ends, Henry was 14th in yards after the catch, 85th overall in the league. His role in the offense is important, but it’s not exactly dynamic to the point of being irreplaceable. His career-high is still 652 receiving yards for a season, even if he would’ve gone slightly over that this season had he not been in COVID protocol.
Another thing to think about after losing out on a Henry extension is his injury history. Chargers fans didn’t want to talk about it since he avoided the injury bug this year, but he has suffered two relatively major knee injuries.
The 2018 right ACL injury and the 2019 left tibia plateau fracture aren’t injuries that are easy to discount in terms of severity. If we’re going to talk about Zach Ertz‘s 2020 injury, Henry’s own history has to be considered.
Tight end is just a tough position to get me to buy in on for overpaying. It’s not that valuable compared to the other free agent positions that Los Angeles could use.
In today’s NFL, tight end is ultimately a thin position around the league, which is why players like Smith and Henry end up getting paid so much. But unless you have a Kelce, Kittle, or Darren Waller type, I’m not sure you’re getting a true difference-maker every week.
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For the Patriots, it’s been a no-brainer. They don’t have Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Austin Ekeler, or Justin Herbert. They’re looking to kickstart what looked like a horrendous offense last year by any means necessary. It’s why they’ve shoveled $45 million into offensive weapons alone (Henry, Smith, Nelson Agholor, and Kendrick Bourne) during the first two days of the tampering period.
Telesco already set the market on the offensive line with his massive Corey Linsley contract. While they could’ve still paid Henry, I’m not sure it really made sense. Part of the advantage of having Henry was blocking enhancement for a young offensive line. Now, the right side of the line is Bryan Bulaga, Matt Feiler, and Corey Linsley. The Chargers may not be done spending on the left side either.
With the remaining $28-30M in 2021 salary cap that the Chargers have (adjusted for draft contracts), I’d frankly rather pursue depth at a handful of positions rather than potentially spend half of that on Henry. Part of the problem with the team last year was that it was so top-heavy.
The other part of it for me is that the available tight ends are better options compared to what was available a month ago. Again say what you will about Ertz, but he’s a three-time Pro Bowler that can be had for less than Henry’s price.
Kyle Rudolph and Jared Cook are solid vets, the latter of which this coaching staff has some experience with. On an upside deal, Gerald Everett could be the better value. David Njoku also lurks out there as a potential trade target as well.
Do the LA Chargers lose much by replacing Henry with any of those guys? Considering the other weapons they have on offense and their quarterback, the answer is no for me.