Where Will The Titans TE Land?
By: Charlie Friar
Titans general manager, Jon Robinson, now sounds like a man who’s in search of a new tight end. The team’s 2017 third-round pick tight end, Jonnu Smith, is set to hit free agency and Robinson has told reporters, “We’ll see what we can figure out. But at the end of the day, if they (Smith and other free agents) choose to capitalize on free agency and the market, I wish them nothing but the best.”
Smith will only be 26 years old and entering his 5th season in 2021, so there’s no doubt there will be many suitors. His versatility and catching ability alone should have teams anxious to sign the free agent, but he’s also a red zone threat (5th in 2020 with 18 RZ targets) and can work well in space, which is why some reports say Smith could be one of the highest paid tight ends next season.
In 2019 Smith set career marks in receptions, yards, and touchdowns. Then, in 2020 he broke all those marks and more than doubled his touchdown total from the previous season, hauling eight touchdowns. In fantasy, Smith improved as well. In 2019 he averaged just 6.5 PPR ppg, but in 2020 Smith finished 12th among tight ends with 10.0 points per game.
The Titans used Smith as a blocker pretty often last season, so if you own Smith in fantasy or if your team is desperate for a pass-catcher, you want to see him on the move.
With the increasing demand for a quality TE, we’re only going to look at teams that can actually afford Smith. Again, he’s set to get paid, so if you’re curious if these teams have the cap space — they do.
The Cardinals are by far my favorite to sign Jonnu. Arizona is in the opposite conference of the Titans and they have Kyler Murray already paired-up with a deadly receiving corp. The Cards are a nightmare to cover defensively because of Murray’s running ability and because of their ability to stretch the field with DeAndre Hopkins and Christian Kirk. That leaves plenty of space in the middle for Jonnu.
Smith will also fill a void for the Cardinals that’s been around since they got to Arizona in 1988. In those 30+ seasons, a Cards tight end has caught at least 35 passes in a season only eight times. Smith has already caught 35 or more passes twice (2019, 2020).
Arizona has also only had one TE ever record more than 50 catches in a season. If Smith lands in the desert I can foresee him being the second in franchise history, with numbers similar to Mark Andrews in Baltimore with 50 rec. and 650 yards.
Indianapolis has a ton of cap space, but this could get tricky because they’re in the same division as Tennessee. If Jonnu doesn’t mind playing his former team at least twice a year, then the Colts may be the best combination of ‘getting paid’ and ‘winning now.’
Carson Wentz loves his tight ends, and the Colts could use an upgrade from Jack Doyle who’s going to be 31 yrs. old soon and just recorded his worst season since 2015. It’s well documented how much Wentz loves to target his tight ends and if the Colts want to get him back to peak form, signing Smith will certainly help. While on the Eagles, Wentz targeted TE Zach Ertz more than 100 times in four out of their five seasons together, and twice Ertz was targeted more than 130 times.
Smith would immediately become one of the top red zone targets for Wentz. He would no doubt have a massive amount of touchdown-upside.
The Bengals are my dark horse team in the running to get Jonnu. As we mentioned, Smith is still young so he has the opportunity to grow with Joe Burrow in Cincinnati. The Bengals are also in desperate need of a tight end. Quick test, can you name the Bengals starting TE? Exactly.
Cincy needs a blocker to help protect Burrow but also a guy who can occupy the middle of the field. Smith can do both and will have plenty of opportunities with Joe Mixon in the backfield and Burrow slinging it every game. The Bengals ranked 11th last season with an average of 39.3 pass plays per game in 2020, and that’s with Burrow missing six games. Smith could also help improve Burrow’s dismal 54.5% red zone completion rate (43rd) with his 11 RZ receptions.
Reports are now out that Seattle will take a swing at signing Smith. Overall, I think the other three teams are better fits for fantasy value but since the Seahawks seem interested, let’s see how that would look for Smith. In 2020, Seattle’s three main TE’s combined for 106 targets which would have been good enough to rank 5th among players at the position. So Russell Wilson is looking to throw to his TE’s, and with DK Metcalf stretching the field there should be plenty of space in the middle for Jonnu to work.
Wilson could also use a true red zone threat at tight end. Seattle finished 6th in the NFL in 2020 with 85 RZ passing attempts, and 23 times tight ends were targeted – hauling in 13 catches. By himself, Jonnu was ranked 5th in the league in 2020 with 18 red zone targets and eight red zone touchdowns.
Overall, look for Smith to go somewhere that can offer the most money and opportunity to utilize him as a receiver.