Jonnu Smith’s first year as a Patriot didn’t get off on the right foot.
Smith, along with many other veterans, opted out of the lion’s share of OTAs in 2021 because of concerns over the league’s COVID policies. He suffered an injury that cut into his participation in mandatory minicamp. And he welcomed a child which, while obviously great news, also diminished his availability in his inaugural season with the team.
Monday at Patriots OTAs, the tight end indicated he’s all in for all of it this offseason.
“I’ve been here since April 19, grinding every day trying to be part of the team-building chemistry,” he said. “In the locker room, even outside of here. If we’re out in Boston or we see each other at the games, Celtics games or Red Sox games, that team-bonding atmosphere. We finally come out here, we were all anticipating Day 1 and you could feel the energy, there was a lot of good energy out here."
Smith had 28 catches for 294 yards last season. He played just 51 percent of the Patriots offensive snaps. It’s very safe to say the Patriots were and are hoping for more from Smith after signing him to a four-year, $50 million deal with $31.25 million guaranteed last March.
"I missed a lot (in 2021)," Smith agreed. "I had a ding in minicamp, I had a baby so my offseason was choppy. Some great things like my baby girl being born but unfortunate things as well. So I definitely missed some quality time here and I recognize how valuable that time is and I’m here to take advantage of it."
Smith’s size, speed, versatility and run-after-catch ability all factored into the Patriots pursuit of him. But the missed time in the offseason and then a spate of early-season drops conspired to derail him from having maximum impact.
This year, attention is being paid. Beginning with the guy who signs the checks.
"I hope that some of the free agents who we brought in who didn't perform as high as we would have liked last year will [produce] this year because they've adjusted to the system," Patriots owner Robert Kraft told Jeff Howe of The Athletic at the NFL Owner’s meetings in late March. "And we're making changes to take advantage of what they do best."
Asked about those changes and whether he’d seen any so far, Smith answered coyly, "Maybe. We’ll have to see opening day."