We’ll be breaking down all the major and minor moves for NFL Free Agency with grades and analysis. You can find the comprehensive list of moves and grades here.
Reported deal: Three years/$37.5 million with $25 million guaranteed
The New England Patriots continued their spending spree with another dip into the top of the tight end market, this time for Hunter Henry. While the money is certainly an issue (and Henry will join Jonnu Smith in the space just below Travis Kelce and George Kittle among tight ends), the Henry signing gives a better view of what the Patriots are trying to accomplish.
Henry’s addition makes the other moves make a little more sense (though the Agholor deal won’t ever completely make sense). It’s now clear to see the type of offense the Patriots are trying to put together. Henry and Smith can become an impressive tight end duo that can open up the possibilities for personnel and formations.
No team used 12 personnel (two tight ends) on fewer plays than the Patriots last season (2% of plays), mostly because they didn’t have any worth putting on the field despite using two third-round picks at the position. That’s expected to be much higher now in 2020, though the question will be how much. The Tennessee Titans and Philadelphia Eagles led the league at 35%. The Patriots used 37% of their offensive snaps on 21 personnel last season, so it’s likely the two tight end sets will cut into that.
During his tenure with the Chargers, Henry was a typical over-the-middle tight end in targets, but had success in the deep and intermediate seams when he got the opportunity.
Henry had 93 targets last season and they were split almost evenly between those inline (42) those in the slot or out wide (51). That should open up the ability to move Henry and Smith around more with plays to the outside and pershaps lining up more in the backfield. With those two tight ends alone, the Patriots have better offensive weapons than they did last season.
An offense of Henry-Smith-Bourne-Agholor-RB with Cam Newton under center is certainly workable. With these additions, the Patriots could also move on from Julian Edelman to gain more cap space and there are reports that the team has been shopping N’Keal Harry. The Patriots could get more assets in return by clearing those roster spots.
But even while the plan is more clear, it took a lot of money to get there. The Patriots have the money can cap space to do it, but this is typically a strategy that comes with more hype than results.