Patriots admit defeat on former prized free agent

Patriots tight end Jonnu Smith was traded to the Atlanta Falcons, joining his third team in the last four years.

At long last, Bill Belichick admits defeat. The New England Patriots head coach doesn’t overtly admit it, but he does so by trading tight end Jonnu Smith to the Atlanta Falcons after Smith recorded middling performances for the past two years.

Smith started his career on the Tennessee Titans and joined the Pats in 2021. During his time in New England, Smith amassed just 539 receiving yards and one touchdown, more often that not sharing a rotational role with Pats’ Hunter Henry.

The 27-year-old tight end now gets a fresh start in Atlanta.

Jonnu Smith trade grades

NFL’s Ian Rapoport reported on Monday that the Falcons would acquire Smith less than an hour away from the start of the free agency period.

The Pats traded Smith to the Falcons for a seventh-round pick, and Atlanta will get to restructure Smith’s contract as part of the deal.

Let’s take a look at how each team fared.

New England Patriots grade: B

The objective here was clear: clear cap space. Jonnu Smith held the the second-highest salary cap hit on the Patriots’ roster heading into 2023. Per Over the Cap, the Pats clear $4.4 million off its books and eat $12.8 million in dead money by trading Smith.

After two unimpressive campaigns, Smith didn’t appear to have an established future in New England’s offensive scheme and served as no more than a mere body in the tight end room. With Hunter Henry besting Smith in nearly all offensive categories and with Smith’s high cap hit, there was no reason for the Pats to hold onto Smith.

New England did the financially responsible thing to offload Smith and got a seventh-rounder in return. The Pats did well to find a willing suitor, but other than that, it’s just an okay trade.

Atlanta Falcons: B+

No tight end has perhaps experienced more of a Year 2 decline than Falcons’ Kyle Pitts, who recorded just 356 yards after a 1,000-yard rookie season and sank the hopes and dreams of fantasy teams everywhere in 2022.

To add crucial depth behind Pitts, the Falcons went out and got a cheap veteran in Jonnu Smith, and Atlanta will be able to restructure Smith’s contract to a more team-friendly deal. It’s a win-win for both sides, especially since Smith gets reunited with Falcons head coach Arthur Smith.

The two Smiths spent time together on the Tennessee Titans from 2017 to 2020. Arthur Smith was the offensive coordinator for the Titans at the time, and he got to see Jonnu Smith develop for the first four years of his NFL career.

Jonnu Smith’s and Kyle Pitt’s success will be heavily dependent on the Falcons’ solution at quarterback this season; however, at least Atlanta has a decent Plan B if Pitts struggles or gets injured.

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