Tight end Jonnu Smith is coming off his best season yet with the Tennessee Titans.
And heading into a contract year in 2020, Smith may have to wait and see what the future holds regarding an extension.
Some Titans players who were identified early as part of the team’s core group – such as left tackle Taylor Lewan and safety Kevin Byard – were rewarded with contract extensions in training camp entering the final year of their respective deals.
Others like Marcus Mariota (allowed to leave in free agency), Derrick Henry (franchise tagged) and Ryan Tannehill (signed to a four-year extension), had to wait until they played out that final contract year.
Smith would seem to be a player who might be in line for an early extension, given that he is the only full-time starting tight end on the roster. Anthony Firkser and MyCole Pruitt have been valuable as role players, but don’t see nearly the playing time that Smith has in being the heir to Delanie Walker’s role.
Smith caught 35 of 44 targets last season for 439 yards and three scores, plus added another TD with an amazing catch against Baltimore in the playoffs. But for all thought of whether or not an extension might be forthcoming before the 2020 season gets under way, Smith is not worried about it – at least outwardly.
“I just play football. I don’t worry about the contracts, I just worry about improving and becoming the best player I can be,” Smith said. “That’s why guys have agents and people who work for them in those areas, so they can handle all of the logistics and everything.
“I’m just trying to improve and become the best player I can be, because if not, honestly contracts won’t even be in the conversation. I’m just trying to be the best player I can be to help this team win as many games and win championships and win Super Bowls.”
Smith said he can take a cue from teammates like Henry and Tannehill, who played last season in the final years of their contracts, and still kept the focus on football.
“That’s kind of what I learned from those guys, from knowing those guys, having been around more guys that went through that process. They’ve just been professionals about it, and just kept their heads down and kept working,” he said. “That’s what I took from it. Just control what you can control. I’m not negotiating the contracts, so I don’t know what happens. I’m just glad that I’m with the Titans. I love being here and I love playing for the Titans, and I’m just going to continue to be the best player I can be for this team.”
During this time of isolation and virtual off-season meetings, Smith has the added advantage of being in South Florida, where he has been able to run routes and catch passes from Tannehill in recent weeks.
“We’re both down in the South Florida area. We’re meeting up at a local park that we’re able to get in to. Not illegally, we’re not breaking any rules, it’s privately owned. We’re getting all the work in that we can, just pretty much everything that I do on Sundays,” Smith said. “I’m just trying to perfect that. Ryan is making me better, I’m making him better, and we’re just building that chemistry on anything you can imagine as far as what it takes to be a quarterback, a receiver, tight end. Just going on certain things to get each other better. It’s been great work, we’ve been able to maximize the most of our opportunity.”
Joint practices possible
If and when football returns to normal, Titans coach Mike Vrabel said Wednesday he has had conversations with one or two teams about possible joint practices against each other.
“There have been some discussions. Again, I think that I would anticipate once we get a little more clarity on what that training camp looks like, that I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to practice with one, if not two teams,” Vrabel said.
Just a guess, but the most logical weeks of the preseason where something like this would happen would be weeks 2 and/or 3. The Titans host the Giants in the second week of preseason, and travel to Tampa Bay in the third game. A Bucs deal could be connected to Jon Robinson’s ties to having worked in Tampa Bay under GM Jason Licht. It would also mean a second straight joint practice with Tom Brady as he came to Nashville last year with the New England Patriots.