Pats add Jonnu Smith in 1st big upgrade since Gronk’s exit


BOSTON — The Patriots have agreed to sign free agent tight end Jonnu Smith in their biggest move to date to fill the void created by the departure of Rob Gronkowski.

Smith, who was selected by the Titans in the third round of the 2017 draft, agreed Monday to a four-year, $50 million deal, his agent Drew Rosenhaus told The Associated Press. New deals can’t be finalized until the start of the new league year on Wednesday.

At 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, Smith has been a consistent presence for Tennessee, appearing in 60 games with 53 starts over the past four years. His improvement has been steady and he is coming off his best season with the Titans, catching 41 passes for 448 yards and eight touchdowns.

The Patriots have struggled to get production at tight end since Gronkowski initially announced his retirement in 2019.

Gronkowski was a favorite target of Tom Brady and a four-time All-Pro during his nine seasons in New England. But in the past two seasons a group that has included Ben Watson, Devin Asiasi, Ryan Izzo, Matt Lacosse and Dalton Keene combined for just three touchdown catches for the Patriots.

Watson, who came out retirement at age 39 when he signed as a free agent in 2019, produced 17 catches for 173 yards that season. But he retired again that offseason.

The lack of a dependable option at tight end certainly restricted quarterback Cam Newton last season, especially after receiver Julian Edelman went on injured reserve early in the schedule.

Adding Smith to the mix is the first in what is expected to be several moves by coach Bill Belichick this offseason to upgrade options in passing game for Newton, who is currently the front-runner to start again after agreeing to a one-year deal last week.

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