In his 4th NFL season Derrick Henry has clearly hit his stride with the Tennessee Titans, but is it his last season in Nashville?
Henry’s rookie contract expires after the 2019 season, with no hint of an extension at any point.
For over two years Henry did not give the Titans a reason to extend him. He flashed with some big plays, but lacked consistency and even criticized his own play calling himself “trash”.
It all changed in week 13 of the 2018 season when he rushed for 238 yards against the Jacksonville Jaguars. He finished strong topping 1,000 yards for the first time with 1,059 and 12 touchdowns.
Thru 11 games this season he has 991 yards and 10 touchdowns. Probably more important though is the style he is playing with. Henry does not look to bounce anymore and does not avoid contact. He attacks the line of scrimmage and attacks defenders using his 240 pounds to punish everything in his path.
Most important he has become the focal point of the Titans offense.
So, barring a trip to the playoffs the focal point of the Titans offense has only 5 games remaining on his contract.
After going for 159 yards and 2 more TD’s in another dominant performance against Jacksonville Henry deflected any notion of worrying about his contract situation, “I’m not going to get into all that, like I said we appreciate all of the fan support. Happy we got the win, hope we can get this thing going.”
Paying Henry is tricky because he has not your prototypical 2019 running back. Mike Vrabel has said he is a three down back, but not in the modern sense. He can take a screen a long way, but he’s not the receiver that Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara or Leveon Bell.
What he does do well though he does extremely well, maybe better than anyone in the league right now and that is run the football. He is averaing 4.8 yards per carry and has 3 plays that have gone for 68 yards or more this season. He also leads the league in yards after contact.
So, how the Titans place value on that specific skill will be interesting.
Henry and his agent are sure to want to see him paid like one of the elite backs in the league and that would likely mean at least $13-million per season.
Highest Paid NFL Running Backs
1) Ezekiel Elliott – 6-Years, $90-Million ($28-Million Guaranteed)
2) Todd Gurley – 4-Years, $5.75-Million ($22-Million Guaranteed)
3) Leveon Bell – 4-Years, $52.5-Million ($27-Million Guaranteed)
4) Devonta Freeman – 5-Years, $41.25-Million ($17.3-Million Guaranteed)
Gurley reset the way running backs are paid in the NFL with his deal and the deals for Elliott and Bell have followed suit. Again though, they are 3 down backs and guys that catch a ton of balls in the passing game.
While Henry has 19 receptions Elliott has 32 and Bell has 51. Gurley is struggling with a chronic knee issue and has seen his touches running and receiving (18) drop dramatically.
Health is a big chip Henry carries in his corner though. Playing behind DeMarco Murray for two years and then struggling to start his third he has not been burried under an avalanche of touches. He has never carried the ball more than 215 times in a season. He is at 206 this season and will crush that number, but the argument can be made there is a ton of tread left on the tire.
Maybe most important is the relationship is a match. Henry matches what the Titans do well and they match his skills. Mash the ball and then strike for big plays on play action.
Just how much competition there is for Henry on the open market remains to be seen, but one rule always seems to apply in free agency, someone will overpay.
There probably is not a scenario where Henry and his agent do not hit the open market. They will want market value.
The question is will the Titans pay it or even over it to keep the King in their kingdom.