Phil Perry

Patriots locking up Hunter Henry is a wise early move for new regime

Henry's contributions in New England go beyond the numbers.

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Eliot Wolf and Jerod Mayo's first big signing in New England is actually a re-signing. And it's a wise one.

Per a league source, the team has locked up Hunter Henry with a deal worth $27 million over three years. According to the Boston Herald, it includes $16 million fully guaranteed. It ensures that a captain from last season and a proven veteran contributor remains with the team as it embarks on a roster rebuild.

Henry, 29, finished the 2023 season with 42 catches for 419 yards and six touchdowns. He suffered a knee injury in a December loss to the Chiefs that ended his season.

Had Henry hit the free-agent market, there was no guarantee that Wolf and Mayo would be able to get him to return. He was arguably the best tight end scheduled to hit free agency -- Dalton Schultz had been slated to become a free agent but re-signed with the Texans this week -- and would have provided a level of experience and dependability wherever he ended up.

The Patriots have been very open lately -- particularly at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis -- about how they are going to identify their "core" players and work to retain them. Safety Kyle Dugger and offensive lineman Mike Onwenu certainly fit that billing, but so too did Henry.

In January, soon after taking over the head coach role in Foxboro, Mayo praised Henry for his leadership despite him not being under contract for 2024 and beyond.

"You look at the offensive side of the ball, however you want to slice it," Mayo told WEEI, "whoever the quarterback is ... has to have some type of leadership ability ... David Andrews, great leader on the offensive side of the ball as well. Hunter Henry, great leader on the offensive side of the ball."

Tight ends Mike Gesicki and Pharaoh Brown are set to be free agents when the new league year begins next week. But now the Patriots have their best tight end from the last few years locked up for the next few, providing the team some stability at a position of need and giving whichever quarterback ends up behind center a reliable target.

The deal for Henry should be considered a strong one. Pro Football Focus NFL analyst Brad Spielberger, who has a track record of pegging free-agent values before deals are signed, believed Henry could be in line for a deal that gave him about $6.5 million per season.

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That the Patriots were willing to give Henry something more than that could be an indication of a few different factors. First? They had money to spend -- they led the league in cap space going into Friday -- and a glaring need at the tight end position. 

But the value of their offer to Henry may have baked in the leadership they believe he'll provide to what could be a very young offensive roster next season. There's also a possibility they'll find they need to go above and beyond what might be league-wide value for players they want to join their team. 

With questions at quarterback, coming off a 4-13 record last season, NBC Sports Boston asked Wolf at the combine if he believed the Patriots would need to pay a "tax" to encourage players to come to a situation that doesn't look championship-caliber on paper at the moment.

"Yeah, in some ways," Wolf said. "But I think that's kind of free agency as a whole. Teams can put their best recruiting pitch on, but at the end of the day, oftentimes, they'll go to whoever is offering the most money."

Whatever Henry's reasons for agreeing to a new deal in New England, it's an early win for Wolf and Mayo as they get their hands dirty in reconstructing this roster.

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