The New England Patriots signing the top two tight ends on the free-agent market signaled Bill Belichick's desire to get back to dominating two-TE sets in 2021.
First, the Pats agreed to a 4-year, $50 million deal with Jonnu Smith to open the negotiation window earlier this week. The next day, New England agreed to a similar $12.5 million-per-year, 3-year deal with Hunter Henry.
Joining NFL Network's Free Agency Frenzy on Wednesday, Smith said he looks forward to becoming a two-headed monster alongside Henry.
"I've seen the success that they've had with two-tight end sets years ago," he said. "It shows how creative they can be. I'm a competitor, and I'm sure (Henry is) a hell of a competitor as well. So, just being able to go in there, just going to try to outwork each other, it's only going to make us better. I'm looking forward to it. I'm just excited for the opportunity and just waiting to get to it. A lot of teams really don't lean on two-tight end sets the way the Patriots do. But the 'Patriot Way' and that's what they've been known for doing the past couple years, so we're going to get this thing going."
Smith, who was never a volume target in Tennessee, averaging 42 targets per season over four years, didn't sound concerned that his production could be curtailed playing with Henry instead of in an offense where he was the clear-cut No. 1 TE option.
In the past, under Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, the Pats offense has proven two-tight end sets can cause problems for defenses. The ability to run or pass out of identical formations offers versatility that can cause havoc for opponents who prefer to spend most of their time in nickel defenses.
Smith noted his versatility as a player who can line up in-line, outside or in the slot makes him a weapon few teams can match.
"I feel like I'm the most versatile tight end in this league," Smith said. "I know what I can do once the ball is in my hands. There's no tight end in the league better than me at that."
The Pats are counting on Smith and Henry dominating over the middle, after the catch and in the red zone. After drafting two TEs last year who struggled to earn snaps, Belichick plucked two players from free agency we know can produce.