The Patriots are trading tight end Jonnu Smith to the Falcons in exchange for a seventh-round pick, a league source confirmed Monday.
Smith reunites with head coach Arthur Smith, his former offensive coordinator and position coach with the Titans, while the Patriots free up more than $4 million in salary cap space.
The move ends Smith’s underwhelming tenure in New England, where he never produced at the level anticipated after signing a monster four-year, $50 million deal in March 2021. Smith, billed as a red-zone threat with impressive yards-after-the-catch ability, finished two years as a Patriot with just 55 catches for 539 yards and one touchdown.
Smith, 27, still has two seasons remaining on his contract, which will likely be restructured by Atlanta. The Patriots incur $12.8 million in dead money from the trade.
Parting ways with Smith was going to be difficult because of the financial implications. Headed into the 2023 season, Smith carried New England’s second-highest salary cap number, $17.2 million, behind only outside linebacker Matthew Judon’s $18.1 million.
If the Patriots released Smith before June 1, they would have incurred $19.1 million in dead money and increased his cap hit by $1.8 million. If they released him after June 1, they would have opened up $4.6 million, which is roughly similar to the amount created by Monday’s trade.
The Patriots could have waited until after June 1 to trade Smith in order to generate $10.8 million in cap space
Moving Smith now makes sense, since the Patriots will have additional cap room to operate with when free agency officially starts Wednesday at 4 p.m.
Tight end immediately becomes a position of need for the Patriots, with Dalton Schultz, Mike Gesicki, Robert Tonyan, and Hayden Hurst among the available free agents. There are also multiple high-performing draft prospects, starting with Utah’s Dalton Kincaid and Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer, expected to go in the early rounds.
Smith represents yet another failure in New England’s attempts to revamp the tight end position following the departure of Rob Gronkowski. Since Gronkowski first retired in March 2019, the Patriots have turned to Ryan Izzo, Matt LaCosse, 39-year-old Ben Watson, Dalton Keene, Devin Asiasi, and Hunter Henry.
The only playerto carve out a meaningful offensive role is Henry, who is entering the final season of a three-year, $37.5 million contract signed at the same time as Smith. Keene and Asiasi, both drafted in the third round in 2020, did not finish out their rookie contracts.
Monday’s trade is also the latest step in the Patriots’ bounce-back efforts after an abysmal 2022 offensive performance. This offseason, the team has hired Bill O’Brien as offensive coordinator and Adrian Klemm as offensive line coach, released third-string quarterback Brian Hoyer, and traded Smith.