The Falcons made a number of notable moves in free agency. The front office added difference-makers on all three levels of the defense; Jessie Bates III, David Onyemata, and Kaden Elliss signed lucrative deals. However, before the legal tampering period even began, Terry Fontenot swung a blockbuster trade to acquire Jonnu Smith from the Patriots.
Many weren’t in love with the deal. Atlanta gave up minimal compensation — a seventh-round pick — but inherited an overpriced contract. It would come out a short time later that the two sides would agree to a reworked contract, making the trade much more palatable. Around the NFL co-host Marc Sessler loves the deal for both sides, giving the Falcons and Patriots both B+ for the trade.
Can Falcons head coach Arthur Smith revive his ex-pupil? Jonnu vanished under the watch of Bill Belichick, squeezing out a 55/539/1 line over two flavorless campaigns. I’m willing to excuse any Patriots weapon from last year’s disaster under Matt Patricia, but Smith — outshined by fellow 2021 addition Hunter Henry — never lived up to his four-year, $50 million pact.
It doubles as a case study in player-coach fit. Jonnu notched 16 touchdowns over his first four years in the NFL, with Smith as his position coach and then offensive coordinator in Tennessee. Smith isn’t likely to use him that way in Atlanta behind monstrous-but-elusive tight end Kyle Pitts, but the veteran’s vicious blocking style fits right in.
I lifted both grades from B to B+ after Smith agreed to a reworked pact that chopped his 2023 salary from $11 million to $8.5 million and his ’24 fee from $12 million to $6.5 million, per Over The Cap. New England traded Smith’s entire contract to Atlanta, saved $4 million in cap space and landed red-zone performer Mike Gesicki days later. Under new coordinator Bill O’Brien, the ex-Dolphins tight end has a chance to topple anything Smith produced with the Pats.
I agree with the assessment that both sides came out on top. Smith’s value in Arthur Smith’s offense is far greater than it was with the Patriots.
In 2019, Jonnu Smith hauled in 35 passes for 439 yards and three scores — all career highs — and followed it up with an even better campaign in 2020, where he recorded 41 receptions for 448 yards and eight touchdowns, adding another on the ground.
Smith never recorded over 300 yards or more than one touchdown in a season with the Patriots. The 27-year-old caught 27 passes for 245 yards and zero touchdowns last year; in 2021, he caught 28 passes for 294 yards and one touchdown — all down from his numbers with Arthur Smith.
It’s fair to expect some positive regression from Jonnu Smith. The Falcons get a versatile chess piece for an ascending offense for relatively no compensation, and the Patriots get out from underneath the contract while Smith reunites with the offensive coordinator that accentuated his skill set best. NFL trades rarely result in a win-win, but this is an extraordinarily rare win-win-win for the Falcons, Patriots, and Jonnu Smith.
Photographer: Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire
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