At this point in the NFL season, it is safe to say that the Tennessee Titans have a good one in running back Derrick Henry. It is because of him that the Tennessee Titans are one game away from playing in the Super Bowl.
His 1,540 yards on the ground during the regular season paved the way into the playoffs for the Titans. After slaying one dragon (the New England Patriots) with 182 yards in the wild card round, he slew another (the Baltimore Ravens) with 195 yards in the divisional round.
And it’s a contract year.
It is likely safe to say that the Titans will have to back up the Brink’s truck in the offseason if they want to keep Henry. As much as they may hate to do it, they may even have to reset the market and make him the highest-paid running back in the game.
But maybe they shouldn’t.
Spotrac.com projects his market value to be around $13.8 million average annual value (AAV) for a four-year deal ($55.3 million). It is a lot of money to pay one player, but it has been clear in the playoffs that he is the driving force behind the offense.
However, the question the Titans’ front office will have to answer is whether they think he can be that guy going forward. If they do, then they should pay him. If they don’t, they may want to franchise tag him and see what they can get for him on the trade market.
But why wouldn’t they believe in him?
There have been too many one-season wonders in recent years; guys who earn the mega-contract only to fade into obscurity.
Todd Gurley is the most recent example. He hasn’t faded into obscurity, and he did have a great season after signing his extension. But he also faded down the stretch in 2018 and was ineffective in the playoffs when the Rams needed him the most.
The 857 yards they got out of him this season is not worth the $14+ million he is set to make a year. With his knee issues, chances are good he will never be a 1,000+ yard guy ever again.
He is just one example. Le’Veon Bell was a big disappointment for the Jets this season after signing his big contract. David Johnson has been a bust ever since the Cardinals gave him a three-year, $39 million deal. Devonta Freeman has underperformed since getting paid in 2017 (five years, $41.3 million). Jerrick McKinnon hasn’t played a down since the 49ers gave him a four-year, $30 million deal two years ago.
Heck, technically, Ezekiel Elliott was a bust this season after having his own contract drama leading to a six-year, $90 million deal. But his down year can also be attributed to play-calling and poor game-planning.
This is a tough call. You want to show your players that they will get rewarded for playing as well as he has. At the same time, history has not been kind to primary ball carriers in recent years.
So, what should they do?
While it may seem callous and ungrateful, the Titans have to be cautious. If he insists on becoming the highest-paid running back in the game, then fine—make it so. But structure it like the Cowboys did Ezekiel Elliott—make it longer with guarantees only covering the first two or three years.
Either that or make it a short-term deal with more guaranteed money—like David Johnson and Todd Gurley.