The Falcons figured to want at least one additional tight end on the roster in 2021, given that they only have Hayden Hurst and Jaeden Graham under contract at the moment. If you had them swapping an undisclosed late round draft choice in 2022 for 33 year old Bills tight end Lee Smith, then you’re a seer and you should probably take up predicting the future as a hobby.
I say that because yes, the Falcons did trade for Smith, marking the second straight season where they’ve swapped for a tight end. Smith, unlike Hurst, isn’t coming in here to catch a bunch of passes.
A trade: Bills are trading TE Lee Smith to the Atlanta Falcons for a 2022 late-round pick, per league source.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 16, 2021
Smith is first and foremost a blocker, and a very good one, which is obviously why Atlanta’s swapping for him in the first place. He was also a team captain in Buffalo. He’ll fill a role that has in recent years been occupied by the likes of Luke Stocker and Logan Paulsen, that of a player who takes on somewhere between 35-50% of the offensive snaps, makes the occasional catch (Smith had 4 in Buffalo this past year with 2 touchdowns, Stocker had 7 grabs in 2020 for Atlanta) and paving the way for the run game and fellow receiving options. Atlanta may still add more talent to this position group, but given that Hurst is a capable receiver, Graham is a solid all-around player and Smith fills that blocking role, this might be who the team rolls with in 2021.
In general, trading late round picks for guys who fill niche roles on the roster is not something I endorse, and I do have to wonder if Atlanta couldn’t have gotten a similar player in free agency on the cheap. Smith comes aboard with a $2.2 million cap hit that Atlanta could attempt to lower by tacking another year on the deal if they love what he brings to the offense, but even if this ends up being for a 2022 7th round selection, it’s a curious sort of trade that I don’t think any of us expected. UPDATE: It was indeed for a 2022 7th round selection.
We’re firmly in the benefit of the doubt phase with a brand new front office and coaching staff, so we’ll see what comes of this particular move. If Smith simply blocks at the level he did in Buffalo for an Atlanta offense that may need all the blocking help it can get to help pave the way for a yet-to-be-determined group of running backs, I’m betting Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot will view the trade as a small price to pay. Me? I’m still kind of reeling that Atlanta’s trading a pick for a blocking tight end, honestly.
It’s fair to say this offseason may have a lot of surprises in store for us, if this move is any indication. Welcome to Atlanta, Lee Smith!