Hunter Henry anticipated being pursued by a market that was very interested in his abilities, but he didn’t foresee landing with the same team that invested heavily in the other top talent at his position.
When it became clear he’d be paired with Jonnu Smith in New England, Henry was driven to imagine great duos of the past. It’s been a hallmark of successful teams, especially those assembled by the franchise he’s joining.
“I trust what we’re building here with the Patriots,” Henry told reporters Monday, via the Boston Herald. “I think that was a big (factor) into my decision on why I wanted to be a Patriot. Just the trust of coach [Bill] Belichick, and what we’re building there. And I’m just fired up to be a part of it.”
Henry is joining a Patriots team that was served a helping of humble pie in 2020, falling from the ranks of perennial contenders to mediocre in finishing 7-9. New England was hamstrung more than any other franchise by the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw multiple key Patriots opt out and its new quarterback, Cam Newton, forced out of action by the novel coronavirus during the season. All of those losses combined to sink New England’s ship, forcing the Patriots to watch the postseason from the unfamiliar confines of home.
Belichick’s club has approached the 2021 offseason as if it is bent on preventing such an outcome from happening again. Henry is an important part of the turnaround effort, and he’s ready to team with Smith to make their mark.
“Obviously, the Patriots’ long history of tight ends, I watched it from afar and admired it,” Henry said. “I feel like they kinda put the tight end on the map again. And so many tight ends in their history have been so great. Just the rich history of it, and how they use the tight ends. … It’s really, really exciting. So I’m pumped to be able to get into the system, learn it, and just see how I can adapt my game to it, and everything that goes with it, with Jonnu, everything. I’m really fired up about it and very excited.”
As respective No. 1 tight ends with their former clubs in 2020, Smith and Henry combined to catch 101 passes for 1,061 yards and 12 touchdowns. It’s not unrealistic to anticipate them combining to do something similar in New England, where the Patriots have demonstrated an ability to maximize the position in the past, and where Newton could use a couple of reliable targets to jump-start New England’s passing attack.
At minimum, opponents will have to spend extra time devising an effective approach to limiting Smith and Henry. And with New England spending plenty elsewhere to load up for an emphatic rebuttal to the 2020 disappointment, we can expect the Patriots to be a tough out every Sunday, with Smith and Henry figuring to be major factors in their effectiveness in 2021.
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