Think Bill Belichick realized he needed to make an upgrade at tight end? In the span of a single offseason, the position went from a glaring weakness to an obvious strength for a New England Patriots offense that once featured the dominant duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
However, Belichick invested significant financial resources on two big-name tight ends who come with durability concerns. And based on the latest report on Hunter Henry, it’s time for New England’s longtime head coach time to officially start worrying about his $37.5 million investment.
The Patriots have big expectations for their new tight end tandem
Patriots tight ends used to cause fits for defensive coordinators.
Those days ended a long time ago, though.
Even dating back to Rob Gronkowski’s final season in New England, Belichick hasn’t gotten enough production out of the tight end position. And ever since the future Hall of Famer retired, the Patriots haven’t come close to replacing him.
However, considering how much money Belichick spent to shore up a glaring weakness, New England obviously has big plans for its new tight end tandem of Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith. Both players signed free-agent deals with an average annual salary of $12.5 million, so the Patriots clearly plan on prominently featuring Henry and Smith in the passing game.
So, what did Belichick get by signing the top two tight ends on the market?
Henry’s NFL resume includes 196 catches for 2,322 yards and 21 touchdowns. The 2016 second-round pick started 49 games for the Los Angeles Chargers before be bolted for a big-money deal from New England.
Meanwhile, Smith posted a rock-solid line of 114/1,302/16 in 53 starts for the Tennessee Titans. A third-round pick in 2017, the athletic tight end scored a substantial raise by signing a four-year, $50 million contract with $31.25 million guaranteed.
Bill Belichick officially needs to start worrying about his $37.5 million investment
Belichick made a big splash by signing Smith right out of the gate. He raised the stakes even higher by securing Henry’s services on a three-year, $37.5 million deal.
Unfortunately for the Patriots, investing significant financial resources on the 26-year-old already looks like a questionable decision.
Although Henry put up solid numbers during his days with the Chargers, he struggled to stay on the field. A variety of injuries — including a torn right ACL and a tibia plateau fracture in his left knee —have limited the 6-foot-5, 250-pound tight end to only 55 of a possible 80 regular-season games. And it hasn’t taken long for Henry to experience some setbacks with the Patriots.
According to Mike Reiss of ESPN, one of the team’s major free-agent acquisitions suffered a shoulder injury in Sunday’s practice. Henry is having an MRI to determine the extent of the damage.
“While initial indications are that the injury doesn’t appear serious, it is painful and Henry could miss time in the preseason, sources say,” Reiss reported.
Prior to hurting his shoulder, Henry sustained an ankle injury during organized team activities. Although he quickly overcame it, the fact he got banged up early on certainly didn’t help quiet the narrative about him being injury-prone.
Now that his shoulder’s hurt, it’s fair to question whether the veteran tight end will live up to his lucrative contract. If injuries prevent Henry from reaching his full potential like they did with the Chargers — he’s never earned a Pro Bowl or All-Pro selection or played 16 games in a season — Belichick will look foolish for giving a player with major durability concerns a big-money deal.
Hunter Henry’s durability issues make Devin Asiasi’s development even more important moving forward
With Henry already dealing with a painful setback and 2020 third-round pick Dalton Keene landing on injured reserve, that should shed a bigger spotlight on a tight end teeming with potential: Devin Asiasi.
Like Keene, he joined the Patriots as a third-round pick a year ago. And like his athletic teammate, Asiasi didn’t come close to living up to expectations as a rookie.
However, given his draft pedigree and upside, the former UCLA standout still has the potential to become a big-time contributor in New England. Although he doesn’t have elite speed, the 6-foot-3, 257-pound tight end has solid size and pass-catching skills. Asiasi will compete with veteran Matt LaCosse to earn the third spot on the depth chart behind Henry and Smith.
After a nondescript rookie season that raised questions about his long-term outlook with the team, the 23-year-old faces the most pivotal stretch of his football career.
Will Asiasi rise to the occasion? Or will he become yet another draft pick who fails to pan out?
Given some of the questions about Hunter Henry’s ability to stay healthy, the Patriots better hope his young understudy takes a significant year-two leap.