Is Jonnu Smith the answer to Carolina Panthers TE problem?

(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) Jonnu Smith
(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) Jonnu Smith /

Could Jonnu Smith be the long-term answer for the Carolina Panthers at tight end following the departure of Greg Olsen last year?

To say the Carolina Panthers missed the dependable presence of tight end Greg Olsen in 2020 would be something of an understatement. The prolific veteran departed the organization in free agency in favor of a move to the Seattle Seahawks, which was a mutually beneficial arrangement to give the player one more shot at attaining an elusive Super Bowl before hanging up his cleats and embarking on a new career as a television analyst.

This was another of the old guard in Carolina who were moved on, which left expectations incredibly high for Ian Thomas to step in and fill the void. The former fourth-round pick showed flashes of brilliance as Olsen’s understudy over his first two years in the NFL. But his lack of involvement and production will surely see the Panthers go in a different direction this offseason.

Thomas was targeted just 31 times throughout the campaign. When one considers Olsen generated 82 throws in his direction over a 14-game period during his final season in Carolina, this was a damning indictment of what the coaching staff thought of the Indiana product’s ability to make a difference.

Carolina has some extra financial resources to utilize in free agency after releasing some established veterans such as Kawann Short, Tre Boston, and Stephen Weatherly, with the restructuring of center Matt Paradis’ deal giving the Panthers an additional $5 million to better spend elsewhere.

Carolina Panthers should make TE a top priority.

Addressing the tight end position should be a top priority. It appears unlikely that Teddy Bridgewater will be under center in 2021. But whoever is the starting quarterback, a pass-catching presence across the middle would be highly desirable with the prospect of Curtis Samuel departing for pastures new in free agency.

One of the more intriguing names on the free-agent market is Jonnu Smith. The Tennessee Titans got some nice production from the player in 2020 in a run-first scheme and although he is a strong candidate for the franchise tag, Carolina should be at the front of the queue if he eventually hits the market.

Smith is a physically imposing individual who represents a matchup nightmare. He uses his body extremely well in tight situations and also makes his presence felt in the red zone to further heighten his overall influence.

There appears little doubt that Smith represents an upgrade on anything Carolina has currently. But as is the case with every decision they make in the coming weeks, the money involved will play a huge role.

Tagging Smith would cost the Titans $10.16 million, according to Over the Cap. Tennessee is up against it financially before sacrifices are made and whether they’ll want to shell out so much for someone who isn’t the focal point on offense remains to be seen.

This is not a normal offseason. COVID-19 has seen to that.

But the Panthers have put themselves in a strong position to strengthen and Smith could make a significant difference to an offense that might look far different by the time competitive action rolls around in 2021.

More than half of Smith’s receiving yards last season came after the catch. Considering how well Joe Brady utilized tight ends during his time as LSU’s passing coordinator, the possibilities are endless if the Panthers bring him on board.

There aren’t many better options available in free agency, of that there is little doubt. But only time will tell as to whether the Titans put the brakes on any attempts to lure him away from the organization.