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Analysis: Hunter Henry's Return a Slam Dunk

According to NFL Network, the Patriots are re-signing their starting tight end to avoid Henry hitting the free-agent market next week. 

Patriots tight end Hunter Henry (85).
Patriots tight end Hunter Henry (85).

The Patriots are keeping one of their team captains around for the foreseeable future after agreeing to terms with free-agent-to-be Hunter Henry.

Officially announced at the start of the 2024 league year, the Patriots are in agreement with their starting tight end on a three-year deal that will keep a core contributor to the offense in New England. After joining the Patriots as a free agent in 2021, the 29-year-old has averaged 47 catches for 542 yards and six touchdowns in his three seasons with the Patriots. Henry has proven to be a reliable chain-mover and red-zone threat, stabilizing a position that was in flux post-Rob Gronkowski.

Over the last three seasons, Henry is tied for fifth among tight ends with 17 receiving touchdowns. The Pats tight end also ranked tenth with a 75.2 receiving grade against man coverage last season, serving as one of the Pats more efficient man-coverage beaters, with 14 catches against man coverage in 2023, ranking tied for ninth in that category at the position.

Along with his on-field production, Henry was voted a team captain for the 2023 season as he blossomed into a locker-room leader. Teammates rave about his consistency and work ethic behind the scenes, where he often sets an example by putting in extra time to work on his craft. With head coach Jerod Mayo aiming to establish his culture, Henry is a core player for the Patriots who can help guide them.

As for the big-picture roster implications, the Patriots were heading into the free agency period without any established veterans under contract at tight end. In addition to Henry being a free agent, contributors Mike Gesicki and Pharaoh Brown are also not under contract. The cupboard was bare at the position, and the top tight end set to hit the market, Houston's Dalton Schultz, re-signed with the Texans earlier this week.

Furthermore, this year's draft class lacks instant-impact contributors at the position, while it's very rare that rookie tight ends produce at a high level in year one. After likely first-rounder Brock Bowers and Texas TE Ja'Tavion Sanders, the 2024 draft mostly has developmental talents. Many of the rookie tight ends surprised scouts with better-than-expected combine performances. Still, they're viewed as projects rather than day-one starters.

There are still some intriguing options in free agency that could help fill out the depth chart behind Henry, such as former first-rounder Noah Fant and YAC machine Gerald Everett. Former Browns tight ends Austin Hooper and Harrison Bryant are also free agents. The two veterans have worked with Patriots offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt in the past.

From this perspective, it would be good for the Patriots to add another tight end who is more explosive in a similar mold to Browns big-play threat David Njoku. Henry is a very steady receiver who provides comfort for a quarterback. But Van Pelt's vertical-based passing system is known for producing opportunities for bigger plays, especially off-play-action. The Pats could find that skill set by making a run at Fant in free agency or drafting a tight end with athletic upside.

Ultimately, the Patriots needed to have a proven commodity at tight end to avoid emphasizing the position in the draft, making re-signing Henry a solid choice for New England.

DISCLAIMER: The views and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the writer and don't necessarily reflect those of the organization. Read Full Disclaimer

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