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Patriots to sign tight end Jonnu Smith to four-year, $50 million deal to kick off NFL free agency

Jonnu Smith.
Jonnu Smith.Wade Payne/Associated Press

The Patriots have agreed to sign tight end Jonnu Smith to a four-year, $50 million contract, a league source confirmed to the Globe.

Smith’s average compensation per year of $12.5 million is the highest figure for an offensive skill-position player in franchise history. Of the current Patriots, only cornerback Stephon Gilmore earns more annually.

According to ESPN, the deal includes $31.25 million of guaranteed money.

Smith, drafted in the third round out of Florida International University in 2017, spent his first four NFL seasons with the Tennessee Titans. Last year, he caught 41 of his 65 targets for 448 yards and eight touchdowns. Twenty-five of his receptions converted for a first down.

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Asked in January 2020 ahead of the Patriots-Titans wild-card matchup if he would consider Smith to be more of a big receiver than a traditional tight end, coach Bill Belichick pushed back on that notion.

“He’s just a really good tight end,” Belichick said. “He’s a very athletic player, hard to tackle, catches the ball well. He’s great after the catch — probably the best in the league. I mean, I can’t imagine anybody better than him after the catch. No, he looks like a tight end to me. And a good one.”

Belichick also praised Smith’s blocking and running ability, noting that the Titans had utilized him at tailback. Smith, at 6-foot-3 and 248 pounds, boasts good size and physicality.

Safety Devin McCourty called Smith “the guy that people don’t talk about a lot in that offense” because Titans running back Derrick Henry and wide receiver A.J. Brown often garnered much of the attention.

McCourty highlighted Smith’s versatility and ability to gain considerable yardage, whether it be a toss-play for 60 yards or a quick slant for 50 yards.

According to Next Gen Stats, Smith is one of the fastest ball carriers at his position. Among all tight ends since 2019, he ranks third-fastest, reaching a top speed of 20.72 miles per hour.

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Smith’s skills will be welcomed by the Patriots, who have generated little production from the tight end position since Rob Gronkowski’s departure in 2019.

In the two seasons without Gronkowski, the Patriots have deployed personnel groupings without a tight end at the second-highest rate (8.6 percent) in the league. During that span, they’ve also utilized groupings with at least two tight ends at a league-low rate (13.7 percent).

The team drafted Dalton Keene and Devin Asiasi in 2020, but the rookie tandem combined for six catches all last season. Ryan Izzo and Matt LaCosse, who opted out of last season, round out New England’s depth chart.

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Nicole Yang can be reached at nicole.yang@globe.com.