The Los Angeles Chargers have a handful of roster decisions to make this off-season, but aside from getting offensive line help, few are more pivotal than figuring out what to do with Hunter Henry and whether to give him a long-term contract, and the tight end position in general. After placing the franchise tag on Henry last year, he is now a free agent and the team has a decision to make. What should they do with Henry? And if they choose not to keep him, what are their options at tight end elsewhere?
A Potential Hunter Henry Contract and Other Options for the Los Angeles Chargers at Tight End
Bringing Back Henry… or Not?
Henry has placed himself as a strong option at tight end – not elite-tier, but still in the top ten. And yet, there is still a slight question as to whether it’s worth a long-term deal for him. The primary reason for this is his injury history. While he did avoid injury in 2020 (his two missed games were due to being on the COVID reserve list), he had an unpleasant history prior to that. Henry had a season-ending injury in 2017, followed by a torn ACL during OTAs in 2018 which caused him to miss the entire season. He then missed four games early in 2019 with a non-severe knee injury.
Despite that, he’s been a pretty reliable option at tight end when available; and given that great tight ends aren’t as easy to come by, it’s arguable that he’d still be worth it. But there’s another issue to consider, and that’s that the Chargers are a rather cheap organization and don’t hand out big long-term deals easily. Handing Keenan Allen and Joey Bosa big deals last off-season felt like a break from tradition (a positive one, though).
What a Hunter Henry Contract Might Look Like
According to Spotrac, Henry’s expected market value is $10.9 per year, with a four-year deal expected. As things currently stand, that would make him the third-highest paid tight end in the NFL – and while that amount is very similar to what he just made on the franchise tag, that does feel a little hefty for a tight end that actually isn’t quite in the top-five range (then again, Austin Hooper got a similar deal last year, and the same could be said for him).
Theoretically, they could just franchise tag him again, but that would cost them about $12.7 million this year, which is almost definitely more than he would make in 2021 under a long-term deal.
Given all of that, we’re left with a situation where the Chargers could go either way. $10.9 million a year isn’t much relatively, but for a tight end it’d be pretty big – and with possible injury-prone concerns still looming and the production not quite matching being paid like a top-three tight end, the Chargers may choose to look elsewhere.
Other Free Agents
If the Chargers choose to move on from Henry, the rest of the tight end free agency lot isn’t exactly packed. But there would be a few options. Jonnu Smith would likely be the second-best option that will actually hit the open market. While he may not have even crossed 500 yards in a season yet, he’s been quite productive with the targets he has gotten and has some impressive versatility as well. He also doesn’t have the injury concerns that Henry might.
Another option could be Gerald Everett – who’s been in a situation where he’s had to share tight end targets with Tyler Higbee, in an offense where the wide receivers have been the preferred targets anyway. That’s another option where the ceiling could be higher than the pure statistics might imply.
Donald Parham or the Draft
There’s another scenario where the Chargers decide to spend very little on the tight end position (especially if they shell out heavily for offensive line help). There’s more than one situation that route could take. There is one more tight end on the roster that got some looks – Donald Parham. He was primarily targeted in the red zone and finished with 10 catches for 159 yards and three touchdowns. Working in his favor is that he’s ridiculously tall at 6’8. The question is whether he can be more than the alternate target at tight end – and going all in on him without a backup plan would be risky (hence why bringing in a cheaper veteran could help).
It’s also possible that the Chargers could look for somebody new in the Draft. There have been quiet rumblings that Kyle Pitts could be a possible selection if he makes it to No. 13 – and if he lives up to the hype, he would probably be an upgrade over Henry. There are some other guys they could look at in later rounds too.
Some may think this should be a fairly simple situation that should just end with signing Henry long-term. But that may not be as cut and dry as one would think. Being poised to make top-five money with some injury history and never really having top-five numbers, combined with the Chargers not normally being big spenders, may complicate that matter. But there are nonetheless still other options they can take with the tight end position that could give Justin Herbert another reliable target.
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