hunter henry jonnu smith jets
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The Jets might pursue tight ends Hunter Henry or Jonnu Smith amid their respective teams’ decisions not to use the franchise tag.

Ryan Honey

Hunter Henry of the Chargers and Jonnu Smith of the Titans both possess expiring contracts.

Of course, this means either was a candidate for the lone franchise tag their team owns, but Tuesday’s deadline came and went without either receiving a placement. Both players could remain with the ballclubs that currently employ them, but free agency is on the horizon — the market officially opens when the new league year commences on Wednesday, March 17.

Some teams require a new starting tight end — the Jets may find themselves in that category, and luckily, own a great deal of cap space (nearly $70 million) to get a potential deal done.

Either Henry or Smith could be beneficial for what Gang Green is building over in Florham Park.

There’s no doubting the talent of either — when healthy, Henry is one of the more productive tight ends this league has to offer. He’s no Travis Kelce or George Kittle, that’s for sure, but Henry can certainly produce if provided with the right situation. The veteran is coming off a season in which he notched a career-high 60 receptions on 87 targets — both numbers were in the top 10 among all tight ends measured on Pro Football Focus. Henry’s 613 receiving yards were also 12th among tight ends.

Regardless of who the Jets employ at the starting quarterback position, whether it be Sam Darnold or Zach Wilson (Deshaun Watson might be unavailable or too expensive), they’ll need offensive weapons to assist in his development.

An upgrade from Chris Herndon and Ryan Griffin (either of whom could be a cap casualty) is thus needed — Henry fills that important requirement and would definitely help out any young quarterback the Jets field.

The one issue, however, is that Henry recently stated he “wants to play somewhere, where there is a good quarterback.” Now, Darnold could succeed more than he has if provided with the right situation — a new coaching staff led by Robert Saleh along with an upgrade in the offensive-weapon department may be what he needs to live up to his noteworthy potential. It’s unknown with Wilson right now — he portrayed extreme talent at BYU but will he translate that success to the professional level? Will he be a bust? Who knows?

It’s not an impossible scenario for the Jets to employ a good starting quarterback in 2021, but the fact their future situation at that position is currently unknown may draw Henry away from Florham Park.

Although Smith didn’t undergo as productive of a 2020 campaign as the aforementioned Los Angeles Charger, he still carries a knack for the end zone and racked up eight touchdown receptions — tied for fourth-most among tight ends measured at PFF. This strength would assist a Jets offensive unit that finished 28th in the NFL with just 16 touchdowns through the air last year.

Smith would additionally help out his then-new quarterback’s development. Over the last two years, he assisted in the re-emergence of Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who’s played some of the best football of his career since coming to Tennessee and replacing Marcus Mariota as the every-game signal-caller.

In all likelihood, the price won’t be absurdly high for either veteran; Henry isn’t of the elite tight ends in the league (as previously mentioned) and neither is Smith. Spotrac has Henry’s market value at an average annual salary of $10.9 million while Smith’s market value is at an even $8 million from an annual standpoint.

New York could close a deal with either given its wide range of available cap space and Henry/Smith’s not-as-lucrative price tags. A three-year deal for either would benefit offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur along with the starting quarterback the organization eventually chooses.

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