There’s no question that re-signing free agent tight end Jonnu Smith is atop the offseason priority list for Tennessee Titans General Manager Jon Robinson.
Smith became quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s go-to option in the red zone last year, hauling in a career-high eight touchdowns — ranking second on the team — and also setting career highs in receptions (41), targets (65) and receiving yards (448).
But Smith leads a rather unimpressive group of free-agent tight ends this year that includes injury-prone Hunter Henry, Gerald Everett, Jared Cook and Rob Gronkowski. And that increases the chances that the 25-year-old is being hotly pursued by other teams.
Smith could draw a lot of interest on the open market and potentially create a bidding war between the Titans and other teams, making his return to Tennessee in 2021 questionable. He even said as much during an interview with Sirius XM NFL radio on Tuesday, offering the perfect level of ambiguity regarding where he will be playing next year.
“First, we have to see what organization I will play for with my contract situation coming up,” Smith said. “[The Titans] are in a great position with this team. I am confident that we will fill the voids. We are putting the pieces in place that we need, and I just think going forward that we have a lot of room for success.”
The Titans have Anthony Firkser coming back next year and they have signed former Vanderbilt star Jared Pinkney and Tommy Hudson to futures contracts. But with Smith, MyCole Pruitt and Geoff Swaim all unrestricted free agents, Tennessee needs to add at least one more tight end to the mix.
Smith’s versatility proved invaluable after left tackle Taylor Lewan tore his ACL in Week 6. He was used in more of a primary blocker role given his strength in run protection to help offset the loss of Lewan.
His pass-catching production took a hit, but he helped pave the way for Derrick Henry to gash opposing teams for 2,027 yards and 17 touchdowns, while the Titans allowed the fifth-fewest sacks (25) in the NFL and the fourth-fewest sacks of teams whose quarterbacks started all 16 games.
In the passing game, Smith is one of the best in the NFL after the catch. He has averaged 6.8 yards after the catch for his career, the fifth-best among all tight ends with at least 25 targets.
Pro Football Focus lists Smith’s market value at $10.1 million per season with a ceiling up to $14.3 million, while Spotrac projects Smith’s contract to be in the five-year, $40 million range.
The Titans could face competition from tight end-hungry teams such as the New England Patriots, Jacksonville Jaguars and Arizona Cardinals, which could all potentially make a run at the soon-to-be 26-year-old.
Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_