From the time he put on a helmet Derrick Henry was probably always either the first or second best player on the field. He was a superstar in high school and a Heisman Trophy winner in college.
For Henry the future was never really a question, it was always under his control. For the first time in his life that may be coming to an end.
After 3 years with the Tennessee Titans Henry is entering the final year of his rookie contract. This season will determine if he gets a handsome multi-year deal or gets a prove-it deal (one year, limited guarantees). 2019 is a contract year and not everyone handles them well.
Henry seemed shocked the question of a possible distraction even came up saying, “I ain’t worried about that. Next question. No concern from me.”
It probably should be though, because he is no slam dunk to return to the Titans in 2020 or land a big payday without a solid 16 games. He shook off an inconsistent first 2-and-a-half seasons with a breakout finish to 2018.
Henry rushed for a whopping 585 yards and 7 touchdowns over the Titans’ final four games of the season. That was the guy the team had waited for. The guy who hit the line hard, defenders harder and got yards after contact. That was the type of player a team can build around.
So, everyone is waiting to see which one is the real Derrick Henry and which one will we see in 2019.
He set a bar he now has to meet if he wants to get paid and paid handsomely. Does that all add to the pressure? You might think, but not according to Henry, “No, no, it’s football. I fell in love with it before the money. I love football so.”
Can he think team first and grind out the tough yards instead of looking to bounce, looking for the home run and making the big Sportscenter splash? That is a challenge for any player, but it gets tougher when money and the future are at stake.
“They get on me all the time and I tell them, hey, this is pro football.” Mike Vrabel said about players on expiring contracts. Vrabel added, “Everybody’s got a contract. We all have one. Some guys have years remaining, some guys expire after the end of this year. We understand that, but we all have a job to do. I was in that position plenty of times as a player.”
Now he is in it as a coach with some of his most important players facing make or break seasons. Keeping 53 men focused on the team prize is among the most difficult for a head coach when so many are also worried about their personal future.
How Henry handles this contract year could decide more than his future, it could have a massive effect on the future of the Titans in 2019 and beyond.