The Tennessee Titans seem ready to let Derrick Henry play this season on the franchise tag, but are they making a mistake?
The deadline for NFL teams and franchise-tagged players to reach an agreement on a multi-year deal is Wednesday. The saga between Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys is getting a big chunk of the headlines, but ESPN’s Adam Schefter has reported the Tennessee Titans and running back Derrick Henry are not likely to reach a long-term agreement by Wednesday’s deadline.
Henry led the league in rushing last year with 1,540 yards (5.1 yards per carry), as he also led the league in rushing touchdowns (16) and carries (303). Add in three playoff games (83 carries for 446 yards), as the Titans reached the AFC Championship Game, and that’s quite the workload.
Henry is slated to make $10.27 million this year on the franchise tag, and he has signed it. A recent stretch of failed big contracts for running backs (Todd Gurley, Devonta Freeman) is surely informing some hesitancy on the Titans part regarding a long-term deal. But Henry’s also a vital cog, and truly the centerpiece, of an offense that’s sure to remain one of the most run-heavy in the league this year.
An area where Henry falls short is as a pass-catcher. Plenty of data shows reveals an argument he should be used more in that area, but last year’s 18 receptions on 24 targets show the Titans just don’t have the plan to use him heavily in the passing game. If rookie back Darrynton Evans forges a role for himself this year, it will certainly be as the change-of-pace/passing-down back behind Henry.
Can Derrick Henry Repeat 2019?
Entering his age-26 season, Henry should have a few more good years left in him. But his running style and last year’s workload mean the cliff could come quickly. With that in mind the Titans could use him like they did last year, and just say goodbye next March. The Dallas Cowboys did it with DeMarco Murray in 2014, running him into the ground with 392 carries and 57 receptions in the final year of his contract. In 2016, they took Ezekiel Elliott fourth overall and reset their running back clock.
Henry may very well take a big workload, and have another big season, in 2020. Letting him play this season on the franchise tag also increases the odds he lands with another team in 2021.
It’s easy to assert that Henry is more valuable to the Titans than any other team. But they are doing it the smart way if they don’t want to give him a multi-year deal that’s beyond their price point, now or perhaps ever.