New England Patriots

(Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports)

The Patriots made the first big splash of 2021 NFL Free Agency on Monday. About an hour after the legal tampering period opened, Adam Schefter reported the Patriots and tight end Jonnu Smith have agreed to a four-year, $50 million contract.

Smith was projected as one of the top two tight ends in free agency, along with Hunter Henry. The 25-year-old is coming off a 41-catch, 448-yard, eight-touchdown season in Tennessee, and is viewed as a high-upside signing.

With $31.25 million of the $50 million guaranteed in the contract, Smith is now – based on guaranteed money – the second-highest paid tight end in the NFL, behind only George Kittle.

A third-round pick out of Florida International in 2017, Smith hit his stride during his third NFL season, and followed that up with a strong performance in 2020. Viewed as a player on the rise, the Patriots are getting tremendous upside with Smith, as well as immediate impact potential.

At 6-foot-3, 248 pounds, Smith is slightly smaller than the Patriots prototypical tight end. However, his athleticism and versatility are surprising for a guy his size, and make him a fit, especially if the team runs more of the modern offensive concepts we saw them introduce last season. A strong blocker who can line up anywhere in the formation (including the backfield) Smith is at his most effective on motion and play action plays.

With Smith now in the fold the Patriots have checked one of their biggest boxes of the offseason – upgrading the tight end room. That room isn’t scheduled to lose anybody from last year, with 2020 third-round picks Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene, and 2018 seventh-round pick Ryan Izzo still under contract. 2020 opt-out Matt LaCosse returns as well. The tight end question for the Patriots now becomes, will there be any added competition brought in to compete for the second spot behind Smith on the depth chart?

MORE: NFL Free Agency tracker

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Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.