Patriots Coaches ‘Couldn’t Make It Work’ With Prized Free Agent in 2021

Getty Jonnu Smith

The New England Patriots‘ offense wasn’t as explosive in 2021 as they may have wanted. Mac Jones and Co. ranked 15th in the NFL in yards per game and 14th in passing yards per contest. There are multiple reasons the Patriots’ offense lacked punch–especially through the air–but one commonly mentioned shortcoming is the lack of impact from prized free-agent signing Jonnu Smith.

After signing a 4-year, $50 million deal with the Patriots in 2021, he had just 28 receptions (sixth on the team) for 294 yards and one TD. He averaged just 18 receiving yards per game and accounted for just 15 first downs all season. In 16 games, Smith had just 45 targets.

The combination of Smith’s injuries and the coaching staff’s inability to find ways to get him involved in the offense led to a disappointing season for the veteran tight end. USA Today’s Henry McKenna called out the Patriots’ now-former offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels as the primary staff member who simply “couldn’t make it work” with Smith.

“McDaniels is one of the brightest offensive minds in the NFL and he couldn’t make it work,” McKenna wrote. “The offense is now in the charge of Joe Judge and Matt Patricia, who are still getting their footing in terms of offensive schematics. It may be a situation where Smith has to elevate despite his surroundings in 2022 rather than because of his surroundings in 2021.”

The Patriots will no longer play with a traditional fullback, so that roster adjustment should favor Smith in 2022. Still, the less-than-definitive leadership structure on offense might create another impediment for Smith.

The sweet spot for Smith and the Patriots’ offense is likely closer to 55 receptions for 500+ yards and at least 5 TDs. If Smith can become a part of New England’s attack on that level, the combination of him and fellow tight end Hunter Henry, who led the team in receiving TDs in 2021 with 9, could give Jones some serious weapons in the passing game.

In Other Patriots News: New England Criticized for Trading Shaq Mason

The Patriots cut costs this offseason in a few ways, perhaps the most major move was the trade of two-time Super Bowl champion Shaq Mason. New England dealt the respected veteran to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where he is reunited with Tom Brady, and the Patriots received a sixth-round pick in return for the upper-echelon offensive guard.

ESPN’s Bill Barnwell believes the Patriots would have been better off holding on to the key cog on the team’s offensive line. He said he wishes the team had found a way to keep Mason, and he identified potential depth issues connected to the questionable durability of Trent Brown and Isaiah Wynn.

Brown and Wynn are the Patriots’ projected starting tackles, but the duo has missed 39 games combined in the past three seasons. Mike Onwenu played a utility role on the Patriots’ offensive line in 2021, stepping in for Brown at times. Onwenu is expected to replace Mason with rookie offensive lineman Cole Strange projected to step in for the departed Ted Karras.

If there is an injury, the loss of Mason could be felt negatively.

In Other Patriots News: Ross Douglas Might Be the Patriots’ Next Hot Coordinator

If you’re looking for the next Patriots coordinator to elevate himself into the conversation for promotion or a better position with another NFL organization, keep an eye on Ross Douglas.

Andrew Callahan of the Boston Herald wrote about how the 27-year-old has warned Bill Belichick’s complete trust.

“You can just tell he’s an up-and-coming star in the business,” says Richmond coach Russ Huesman, Douglas’ last boss before New England.

Douglas is currently in a coaching fellowship role on the defensive side of the ball. He played college football at Michigan where he was primarily a running back before turning his attention to coaching.

He’s young and will have to work his way up the ladder, but if Douglas has done enough to gain Belichick’s respect, that could speak volumes about his coaching ceiling.

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