The July 15th deadline is quickly approaching, will the Tennessee Titans pay Derrick Henry?
As everyone knows, the running back position is arguably the easiest of the 22 starting positions on an NFL team to replace, and recent history often supports that way of thinking especially for the Tennessee Titans.
Ezekiel Elliott is the definition of a complete three-down back and became the highest paid player at his position after signing a deal that brings in approximately $15 million annually. An expensive price tag no doubt, but the production is seemingly always consistent with Zeke which ultimately allows his team to build their entire offense around his skill set anytime he’s on the field.
Unfortunately for the running back position as a whole, for every special athlete like Ezekiel Elliott, there seems to be numerous examples of running backs who get paid and flop out of their huge deal for whatever reason just a few years later.
There are a couple cases where the production, durability and reliability of a running back, matches the eye test, which ultimately helps lead to team wins. Those are the running backs that truly deserve the benefit of the doubt in regards to paying big money to.
The multi-million dollar question that the Titans have until July 15th to figure out is: which one will Derrick Henry be after this next deal?
Now, there are a lot of reasons to believe that Henry will become the exception rather than the expectation.
First off, his work ethic and team-first mindset is evident in everything he does and that is not going to change just because he adds a few more zeros to his bank account.
One of the major knocks on paying running backs is the life expectancy at the position is so short due to all of the hits they tend to take.
By the time they finish their rookie contract, most running backs usually have some type of nagging injury on their resume that starts to deteriorate their career as time progresses.
However, Henry has had the blessing in disguise of sharing the backfield with another competent running back for the majority of his career. Up until his breakout game against the Jaguars back in December of 2018, Henry was never a true workhorse back.
Since then, Henry has taken the league by storm, and is hitting his prime as healthy and as fresh as a running back could possibly be, prior to receiving a top-dollar extension like the one Henry is going to get from someone in the near future.
Back in 2016-2017, Henry only touted the rock a combined 286 times over the first 32 games of his career as he spent the majority of that time in a relief role for Demarco Murray.
Henry was finally given the full time starter job after Murray’s retirement following the 2017 season and struggled mightily to take the reigns right out the gate.
Dion Lewis came in from New England and was seemingly starting to take a chunk of Henry’s carries away due to his often inconsistent play.
As painful as this must have been for Henry, it might have been the best thing that ever happened to his football career because it led to him finding his true playing style, while also saving him from putting a bunch of carries on his shoulder before he was truly ready.
Before the 2019 season in which Henry won the rushing title after carrying the ball for a whopping 386 times in 18 starts, the Florida native’s career high was just 215 carries. In fact, he only averaged 167 carries over his first three seasons prior to his dominant 2019 campaign.
Even with that total, Henry has only averaged 201 carries over his four year career — a number well below some of the other running backs around the league that have received massive paydays.
For comparison: when fully healthy/active for a 16 game season, Todd Gurley has averaged 253 carries for his career, Le’Veon Bell has averaged 272 carries, meanwhile Ezekiel Elliott has averaged an absurd 292 carries per season (regular season only).
Those totals don’t even include all of the touches those running backs get in the passing game which is significantly higher than Tennessee’s superstar running back.
Henry is undoubtedly a physical beast that saw an influx of carries last year, but hearing people say that he’s taken too many hits throughout his career and they are worried he’s going to start falling apart like many of those before him, seems to be like a real long shot barring any catastrophic injury.
Especially considering the fact that the former Yulee high school legend is bigger than the majority of opposing players on defense more often than not.
In conclusion: It’s understandable to be cautious about paying a running back huge money going into their second contract cause that usually means they have severe tread on their tires.
Something that often leaves GM’s wondering whether they’re going to be paying for what that player has done in the past, or whether they’re paying for what they’re going to get in the near and foreseeable future.
Henry is a true anomaly in the sense that he is entering the prime of his career following his true breakout year in which he was a workhorse back for 16+ games for the first time.
The Alabama product has never had any major injuries throughout the duration of his football career and tends to give out more punishment than he receives.
Rather than being so skeptical by wondering whether Henry is going to be the next running back bust, start asking yourself if we are on the verge of seeing the most dominant and physically imposing running back the league has seen since Adrian Peterson was in Minnesota.
And for those of you thinking that statement is a reach, since his breakout game in Week 14 of the 2018 season, the man known as ‘El Tractorcito’ has rushed for 2,571 yards and 25 rushing touchdowns in his last 22 games (including playoffs).
Derrick Henry is undoubtedly the face of the Titans’ franchise and it would be wise for them to treat him like it ASAP because the longer they wait, the more expensive it is going to be.