TE Jonnu Smith is a good player, but re-signing him wouldn’t be worth the cost for the Tennessee Titans.
Based on precedents set by the most recent free agency contracts and extensions signed by tight ends, Smith will likely get a new contract with an annual average salary of $10.25 million.
With the amount of roster needs that the Titans have, and the NFL’s shrinking of the 2021 salary cap, the Titans would be wise to let Smith find another team and spend their money elsewhere.
Smith certainly did some nice things for the Titans in 2019 and 2020. He made several big plays for the offense, most notably his circus-like touchdown catch against the Ravens in the divisional round of the 2019 postseason.
He’s also really athletic, with speed that few tight ends across the league possess.
The #Titans aren’t better off without Jonnu Smith.
But they are better off not committing themselves to spending $10 million against a reduced cap on an offensive player (who might end up being cheaper on the market) at the expense of so many pressing needs on defense.
— Gentry Estes (@Gentry_Estes) March 9, 2021
Smith’s talent, though, has too rarely turned into production on the field.
In Smith’s two seasons as the Titans’ primary tight end, he played in 31 games and recorded just 887 receiving yards.
During most of that time, the Titans’ boasted one of the NFL’s most explosive passing offenses, with QB Ryan Tannehill throwing for nearly 4,000 yards in 2020. Yet, Smith was rarely a part of the production.
Smith did catch eight touchdown passes in 2020, but most of those were in the red zone, and touchdowns are rarely an accurate indicator of a receiver’s worth (see: Julio Jones).
Additionally, Smith’s contributions in the run game are easily replaceable. Smith is a capable run blocker, which adds to his value, but blocking tight ends can be easily found in the draft.
An argument that has been often used by Titans fans to defend Smith’s lack of production in 2020 is that his fast pace to begin the season was halted when LT Taylor Lewan suffered a season-ending injury, leading to Smith being asked to do more blocking in the passing game.
However, it’s also important to note that the Titans’ offense hardly missed a beat with Smith having less of a role in the passing game. That points to either him either being replaceable or not terribly crucial to the unit’s overall success.
It is undeniable that Smith was valuable to the Titans’ offense from 2019-2020 and that the offense is better with him on the team. But the question the Titans have to answer with Smith isn’t, “does he make us better?”
Rather, the Titans’ task is deciding whether Smith’s value is worth the cost of keeping him around. The answer to that question is no.
They should, instead, take that $10 million and use it on either someone to help the defense or a wide receiver to replace the recently-released Adam Humphries.
Cover image: Jim Brown / USA Today