When the Tennessee Titans selected tight end Jonnu Smith in the third round of the 2017 draft, most people believed he would be used as a backup for Delanie Walker.
However, after his performance this season, I believe he deserves to be the starter next season.
Smith started all but one game alongside Walker before the 13-year veteran’s season-ending injury. He put up modest numbers, catching six passes for 97 yards through six weeks.
Since Walker’s injury, though, he has begun to shine. Smith has 26 catches for 279 yards and two touchdowns since becoming the No. 1 tight end. The Titans are not afraid to involve him in the run game, either. The 6-foot-3 tight end, who posted a 4.62 forty-yard dash time at the combine, has carried the ball three times this season for 71 yards. 57 of those yards came all at once in Sunday’s loss to Houston. It was the longest run by a tight end in 43 years.
Jonnu Smith is a tight end.
— NFL (@NFL) December 15, 2019
Another way he benefits the team is financially. His cap hit in the 2020 season will be less than one million dollars — $933,197 to be exact. That is significantly less than Walker’s $8.3 million 2020 cap hit. This is incredibly important since the team will likely be attempting to re-sign Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry during the off-season.
I believe the Titans should either trade or release Walker in the offseason in order to free up cap space for Tannehill and Henry, both of which will not be cheap contracts.
I’m not saying Walker cannot still play. He has expressed his desire to play in 2020 and I think he certainly has the ability to keep playing — I just don’t think it will be in Nashville.
NFL teams normally don’t typically spend $8 million on 36-year-old tight ends with a recent history of ankle injuries — especially when they have a younger player who has shown great promise.
Walker has done great things for the Titans and, essentially, rebuilt his career in Nashville. However, father time is undefeated and age eventually catches up with everyone. Like I said, I do not believe his career is over just yet, but it’s time for the Titans to give Jonnu Smith the spot he has earned.
Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports