The NFL's new league year isn't set to kick off until March 19, but the Seahawks have already made it clear they will be prioritizing adding a proven playmaker at the tight end position this spring.
After previously reaching out to Philadelphia about a possible trade for former All-Pro Zach Ertz, a source indicated Seattle would "make an aggressive run" at even bigger prize by targeting Tennessee tight end Jonnu Smith if he hits free agency.
The 25-year old Smith, who is expected to be one of the most coveted tight ends on the market, established new career-highs 41 receptions, 448 receiving yards, and eight touchdowns for the playoff-bound Titans in 2020. Emerging as one of quarterback Ryan Tannehill's favorite targets, he earned the 10th best overall grade (75.2) and the seventh-best receiving grade (79.2) from Pro Football Focus for tight ends with 30 or more targets.
Selected in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft out of Florida International, Smith has gradually become a bigger part of Tennessee's passing attack. Since catching 18 passes for 157 yards and a pair of scores as a rookie, his reception total as well as receiving yardage and touchdowns improved each of the past three seasons. He did this while never receiving more than 63 targets in a single season.
At 248 pounds, Smith also has made noticeable strides as a run blocker since breaking into the league, receiving the highest mark (62.8) of his career from PFF in 2020. Particularly after starting left tackle Taylor Lewan went down with a torn ACL last season, he endured his share of struggles in pass protection, allowing seven pressures, six hurries, and a quarterback hit on just 57 pass blocking snaps.
The Titans hope to find a way to keep Smith, but the organization currently is sitting $2 million over the salary cap and has several other key players set to hit free agency, including receiver Corey Davis, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, and linebacker Jayon Brown. Assuming he isn't re-signed or doesn't receive the franchise tag before March 17, they likely won't have the money to retain him.
As for the Seahawks, Smith's potential fit is an obvious one. Heading into free agency, they have only three tight ends - Will Dissly, Colby Parkinson, and Tyler Mabry - under contract. Greg Olsen announced his retirement earlier this month and Stephen Sullivan signed with the Panthers after the team opted not to re-sign him.
With new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron expected to implement wrinkles from the Rams' scheme, the Seahawks will likely deploy a lot more 12 personnel sets with two tight ends on the field. While it remains to be seen how involved tight ends will be in the passing game, the apparent desire to upgrade at the position suggests they will be featured more than they were by former play caller Brian Schottenheimer.
Signing Smith would check off numerous boxes for Waldron, providing an athletic "move" tight end who can hold his own as an inline blocker while also being capable of running routes from the slot, creating after the catch, and doing damage in the middle of the field. He's also reliable, as evidenced by the fact he has posted a catch rate north of 60 percent in all four of his NFL seasons and has just eight drops on 179 career targets.
Financially, Seattle will have to make a few moves to open up some cap space to be able to add quality free agents such as Smith, who Pro Football Focus projects will receive a four-year deal around $38 million. Per OverTheCap.com, the team currently has only $4.3 million in available space and wouldn't be able to fit such a contract on the books without some maneuvering. Given financial constraints, the organization could be out of the bidding quickly.
But in coming weeks, general manager John Schneider will most certainly find a way to create more flexibility prior to free agency, whether through restructured contracts, extensions, or trades. If the Titans can't find a way to re-sign Smith before free agents can begin negotiating with teams next month, expect the Seahawks to make a lucrative offer with hopes of bringing the talented tight end to the Pacific Northwest.