Move tight ends are starting to become one of the more desired offensive weapons in football. Creative offensive coordinators are willing to line them up at the end of the line of scrimmage, in the slot or even as a team’s X receiver. Within the last year we have seen the likes of Dallas Goedert, David Njoku, Hunter Henry, and Jonnu Smith all receive contracts with an Average Annual Value (AAV) of $12,000,000 or higher with guarantees of $14,000,000 or more on each deal. With Noah Fant potentially the next tight end in line to get paid, does it make sense for Seattle to try and extend his contract prior to the 2022 season or wait and if they were to sign him now what could his contract look like?
It makes a lot of sense for Seattle to lock up Fant soon for a few reasons. If Seattle was to wait until the middle of next offseason to extend Fant there is a strong possibility that Mike Gesicki, Darren Waller, T.J. Hockenson, and Dalton Schultz all will receive contracts that will effectively reset the tight end market. If each of them receives contracts north of $57,000,000 with guarantees above $28,000,000 it is difficult to envision Fant not demanding a contract in that territory. Whereas if they were to sign him now, they might be able to get him on a cheaper deal. If Fant was to play up to his true potential this upcoming season, posting a receiving total of 900+ yards, it would be difficult to see how he doesn’t demand a top five tight end contract surpassing the likes of Mark Andrews and Dallas Goedert, which with the impending DK Metcalf contract is something they would want to avoid.
Contract #1 - Hunter Henry - New England Patriots
Contract details - 3 years - $37,500,000 - Guarantees - $25,000,000
In terms of what Fant and Henry bring to the table as well as their respective numbers posted there are a lot of similarities between the two. Both are tight ends who have the size and the athletic profile to be used all over the formation. In his final year with the Chargers before he received his deal with the Patriots, Henry caught 60 passes for 613 yards with 4 touchdowns and a 64.5% catch%. Last season Fant hauled in 68 grabs for 670 yards to go along with 4 touchdowns and a 75.6% catch%. Fant is a bit deadlier after the catch than Henry as in every single season of Fant’s career he has eclipsed 300 or more yards after the catch, whilst Henry had 164 and 226 yards after the catch in his two seasons prior to his big money deal.
Unlike Henry, Fant was also used as a weapon closer to the line of scrimmage as his average depth of target the last two seasons has been 7.6 and 6.7 yards whereas Henry was sitting at 10.2 and 8 yards in his two seasons prior to free agency. This stat alone is a reason Seattle should look to lock up Fant this offseason and not wait until after the season. If offensive coordinator Shane Waldron uses Fant as more of a down the field weapon, running digs, outs, corners etc. off of the likes of DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett to where you can get him isolated against backers or in space against zone his numbers will likely take a rather large jump this season.
Projected Fant contract - 3 years - $41,500,000 - Guarantees - $25,600,000
A shorter-term deal does make some sense for Fant as it would allow him to get to free agency one year earlier, potentially lining him up for a massive contract if he is able to put together some strong seasons. $25,600,000 would also give him one of the highest guaranteed totals for a tight end in NFL history. Seattle opts for the shorter team deal because it would line up with the fifth-year option of a quarterback if they choose one in the first round of next year’s draft. If Seattle was to pick up that fifth year it would likely be a massive number (assuming they are a top ten pick), so the organization would like to be in a position with as much cap space as possible so they can properly address where they want to allocate that space based on the current construction of the roster, rather than being hamstrung by other contracts.
Contract #2 - David Njoku - Cleveland Browns
Contracts details - 4 years - $54,750,000 - Guarantees - $17,000,000
Njoku’s deal is the most recent of the three contracts as it was signed only a few days ago and gives us the best comparison for what a Fant contract could look like. Njoku has yet to consistently post the numbers Fant has amassed throughout his career; he only has one season with more than 475 receiving yards. However, that did not stop Cleveland from giving him the fifth largest AAV to a tight end in the NFL. Like all of the tight ends that will be discussed in this article, Njoku is a tight end that can be moved around the formation making him a true threat to a defense. Njoku, like Fant, is also a weapon with the ball in his hands as last season he totaled 247 yards after the catch which was good enough to get him 6.9 YAC per reception (compared to Fant’s 4.5 last season and 6.1 in the prior season).
Unlike Henry, both Fant and Njoku have been the third or fourth option throughout their respective careers, with Fant playing behind the likes of Jerry Jeudy, Cortland Sutton and Tim Patrick whilst Njoku was behind Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, and Austin Hooper. Cleveland extended Njoku in part because he was playing this upcoming season on the franchise tag, meaning they did not want to run into the same issue again next offseason and the potential distractions it could bring. However, they also inked him to this deal because they wanted to lock him up pre-breakout; they saw the potential of the player and likelihood he would have a strong season in 2022 so rather than risking him commanding the second or third largest AAV for a tight end they instead decided to get it done early, which is the same mindset Seattle should have with Fant.
Projected Fant contract- 4 years - $56,000,000 - Guarantees $26,000,000
This is the first of the four-year contracts that we are going to be evaluating and in this one the deal contains a higher total value with a lower guarantee compared to the other four-year pact. Fant does this deal because in a sense it is a bet on yourself contract. It is not an incentive-laden deal like other bet on yourself deals, but if he was to see out the full four years of this contract he’d be one of the better paid tight ends in NFL history whilst still being young enough to get another large contract — either with Seattle or someone else. Seattle agrees to this because of the lower guaranteed number making it a bit easier to get out of his contract if anything was to go wrong. If Seattle wanted to, they could spread the money out a bit more, putting some of it on his current rookie deal. With that in mind there is a chance they would be able to cut out from his contract as early as 2025 and pick up some salary cap relief if it was needed.
Contract #3- Jonnu Smith - New England Patriots
Contract details - 4 years - $50,000,000 - Guarantees - $31,250,000
At the time of signing, this contract was a bit confusing as despite showing potential throughout his career in Tennessee Smith was never really able to build on it in Arthur Smith’s offense where tight ends are crucial. His career high in yards was 448, he only posted one season in which he had a catch% above 67% and the former Titan only had one 40+ catch season. Now part of this is because he was playing in a run-heavy scheme, and he was stuck behind Delanie Walker for large parts of his career. Despite this though, Walker only played in 8 combined games between 2018 and 19 two seasons in which Smith was only able to total 439 and 448 receiving yards, which combined is only 80 more yards than what Walker posted in 2017, his final full season. Like Fant, Jonnu received the majority of his targets closer to the line of scrimmage as his average depth of target in his two seasons prior to his contract with New England was 5.3 and 5.5 yards whilst averaging 7.8 and 5.8 yards after the catch.
Projected Fant contract - 4 years - $51,000,000 - Guarantees - $34,000,000
Fant does this contract as despite getting a lower total value than the previous four-year contract, by sacrificing a potential additional $5,000,000 he is able to pick up $8,000,000 guaranteed, which in the NFL makes a great amount of sense for a player. If he was to see out the entire length of this contract and miss only a few games, he would be sacrificing some money, but the majority of players would trade that off for a higher guaranteed total. Seattle does this deal because it helps them slightly lower his overall cap hit. This will allow them to allocate money elsewhere, which is going to be crucial if/when the Metcalf extension is agreed upon as well as Jamal Adams cap hit takes a large increase next season.
The Seahawks have already shown some level of commitment to Fant by picking up his fifth-year option, the first time the team has done so with any first-round pick (whether their own choices or in this instance, Fant via the Russell Wilson trade). We’ll see if Fant’s on-field performance in 2022 will lead to a bigger payday for the former Iowa star.