Just an hour into the NFL’s legal tampering period last month, the New England Patriots agreed to a four-year deal with one of the two top tight ends available in free agency. Despite bringing in Jonnu Smith, however, they were not done: just one day later, the Patriots also added the second top-tier player available at the position.
New England signed former Los Angeles Chargers second-round draft pick Hunter Henry to a three-year, $37.5 million deal. While that is quite the investment, it reflects Henry’s status as one of the better tight ends in football — a status he was able to achieve despite struggling with injuries throughout his NFL career.
With that said, let’s take a closer look at his medical history to find out what it all means from New England’s perspective.
2013 (Arkansas): Henry did show some solid durability during his career at Arkansas, appearing in all 38 possible games in his three seasons as a Razorback. Only once did he suffer an apparent injury: as a true freshman in 2013, he had to leave the team’s 30-10 loss versus Florida due to an undisclosed ailment and was unable to return. He was back the following week, though.
2016 (Chargers): Henry did appear in 15 of a possible 16 games as a rookie in 2016, but he popped up twice on the injury report. The first such instance came in mid-October, when he suffered a concussion in Week 7 versus the Atlanta Falcons. He was cleared for the next game, however.
That game — a Week 8 bout with the Denver Broncos — saw Henry sprain his knee. He did return to the field after the initial injury, but was forced to sit out the following week’s contest against Tennessee.
2017 (Chargers): Despite reportedly dealing with a knee injury ahead of early-December’s game against Washington, Henry was not listed on the Chargers’ injury report.
Leading up to the following week’s game versus the Kansas City Chiefs, Henry did appear on the injury report. He was a limited participant during the first practice of the week because of a calf ailment, but was later removed from the list altogether. He went on to play 38 of 64 offensive snaps and caught three passes for a total of 28 yards.
That game was Henry’s last of the 2017 season, though. He suffered a minor kidney laceration during the contest in Kansas City and was shut down for the remainder of the season: the 7-7 Chargers moved the tight end to injured reserve. While they did win their two games without him, they failed to qualify for the playoffs.
2018 (Chargers): Henry’s 2018 season was essentially over before it even began. He suffered a torn ACL in his right knee during organized team activities, and was placed on the Chargers’ physically unable to perform list ahead of training camp. Henry spent the entire regular season as well as the team’s playoff opener on the list before being activated for its divisional round matchup versus the Patriots. Henry, who was listed as questionable leading up to the game, ended up playing just 14 snaps in his team’s 41-28 loss and failed to register any statistics.
2019 (Chargers): While Henry was good to go for the Chargers’ 2019 season more than a year removed from his ACL tear, he was still unable to participate in a full season. Again, his knees were the problem: he suffered a tibia plateau fracture in his left knee in September and had to sit out four games as a result. When he returned in Week 6 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Henry caught eight passes for 100 yards and a pair of touchdowns — his best statistical performance of the season.
2020 (Chargers): Dealing with an ankle issue, Henry was listed as a limited participant in practice early during the week leading up to the Chargers’ late-September game versus Carolina. However, he was eventually removed from the injury report and ended up playing 69 offensive snaps on Sunday.
During a mid-December contest against Atlanta, Henry appeared to have hurt his right shoulder after getting upended on an overthrown pass. He did return to game after a couple of snaps, though, and was not listed on injury report the following week — at least not because of a shoulder issue.
Henry was listed because of a hip ailment, however. He was a projected non-participant on Monday, was limited on Tuesday, and eventually removed from the list on Wednesday. He was good to go on Thursday night in Las Vegas, and caught five passes for 65 yards and a score.
Despite not having missed any games due to injury during the 2020 season, Henry still ended the campaign on the sidelines. The Chargers sent him to their Coronavirus reserve list on December 24th after he had missed practice due to an illness. He missed the team’s final two games and was not removed from Reserve/Covid-19 until January 7th.
What this means for the Patriots
As can be seen, Henry brings a considerable injury history to the Patriots and has missed at least one game due to medical reasons in each of his five seasons as a pro. While he only suffered one major injury over the course of his career — his ACL tear during the 2018 offseason — the matter of fact is that he has appeared in only two thirds of Los Angeles’ games (56 of 82) since joining the organization in 2016.
New England, however, does not seem to be overly concerned with those numbers and his comparatively sizable injury list. After all, the team did include $24 million in guarantees into his contract.
While this could be a result of some competition the team faced when it came to bringing him aboard, it also shows that Bill Belichick and company did feel comfortable in giving him more guaranteed money than all but two of their other free agency acquisitions (Jonnu Smith, Matthew Judon). Now it’s on Henry to justify this number, and finally shed the “injury prone” tag that has seemingly followed him for quite some time now.