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Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith avoid franchise tag, to hit free agency

The tight end position will have some valuable options hitting the open market when 2021 NFL free agency opens on March 17th. We break down some key names that avoided the franchise tag.

Los Angeles Chargers tight end Hunter Henry against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium.  Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

There aren’t many star tight ends in the NFL, but a pair of good ones became available on Tuesday at 3:00 p.m. ET when they weren’t franchise tagged by their respective team. Quite a few of the league's best offenses boast top-notch tight ends, so teams will be interested in making improvements. Here are two of the most coveted free agent tight ends on the market ahead of the 2021 season.

Hunter Henry

Henry has been advertised as one of the NFL’s most promising, young tight ends in recent years but was disappointing in 2020. The 26-year-old reached career highs in receptions (60) and targets (93), but his receiving yard (613) and receiving touchdown (9) totals decreased. Justin Herbert clicked with Keenan Allen early, and other young pass-catchers — Tyron Johnson and Jalen Guyton — are on the rise. The Los Angeles Chargers haven’t indicated that they’re ready to move on from Henry, but they could lose him in a bidding war against a team in serious need.

Jonnu Smith

Smith was a big part of the Tennessee Titans' ultra-efficient offense in 2020 because of his red-zone effectiveness. His career highs of 43 receptions and 448 receiving yards weren't all that impressive, but he ranked third among all tight ends in receiving touchdowns (8). Smith is only 25 years old and has room to grow, but calling him a star in the making would be a stretch. Nevertheless, he’s a consistent target worthy of some attention.