Patriots’ two high-priced tight ends Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry failing to meet expectations as offense falters

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — As Julian Edelman officially said his goodbyes to Foxborough during a ceremony honoring him at halftime, you can bet the vast majority of those in the stands were wishing the former receiver could put retirement on hold for just two more quarters and help out his former club. Not only would No. 11 inject some nostalgia into the Week 3 contest, but he’d likely provide a spark to a New England offense that desperately needs it. 

Throughout his illustrious tenure in Foxborough, Edelman was famous for coming up with a critical play when the team needed it most and serving as the “break-glass-in-case-of-emergency” option if everything else with the offense stalled out. Well, the Patriots offense effectively broke down like a rusted Corolla on Sunday and no one was truly able to provide a jump. While there’s a case that no Patriot will ever reach the levels Edelman climbed during his day, this offense still needs players to move the chains. 

By looking at the receipt from New England’s offseason spending spree, that role should be falling on the shoulders of their tight ends. The Patriots committed $87.5 million ($56.25 million guaranteed) to both Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry at the start of free agency back in March and, to this point, neither has truly lived up to that billing. 

In Sunday’s Week 3 loss to the Saints, the two combined for six receptions for 40 yards and largely did more harm than good.

Just prior to the half, the Patriots had arguably one of their few successful drives of the day. They had the ball as deep as the Saints 22-yard line and were poised to go for it on fourth-and-1 to try and cut the New Orleans lead to seven with a possible touchdown if the drive continued. As they lined up, however, Henry sprinted offsides to push New England back 5 yards and forced the Patriots to instead try for a field goal. 

Meanwhile, on the first play of the second half and New England down just 11, Mac Jones targeted Smith at the Patriots 32-yard line. The rookie’s throw hit Smith in the hands, the tight end was unable to bring in the catch and the ball was tipped into the arms of Saints defensive back Malcolm Jenkins, who cruised in for a touchdown. 

On two consecutive drives, New England’s offseason prizes on offense were directly responsible for either wiping away potential points or putting the ball in the hands of the opposition to immediately score. 

Again, this isn’t simply a bad day at the office for both Henry and Smith, rather a continuation of the failure to live up to what they were paid to do on this offense. Upon arrival, the hope was that New England would be able to deploy a lethal 12-personnel attack with both tight ends proving to be mismatches that would help Jones ease into the league. So far, that simply hasn’t happened with the two combining for 20 catches and 183 yards through three games. 

Yes, that is more than what Patriots tight ends were able to achieve for all of 2020. However, New England did not have players at that position rank inside the top five on the team in average annual salary like Smith and Henry both do. 

Simply put, the Patriots need to elevate offensively if they want to be playing meaningful games later this fall and it most likely has to start with both Smith and Henry leading the way.

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