Derrick Henry’s performance will decide the Tennessee Titans offseason

Tennessee Titans (Mandatory Credit: The Tennessean)
Tennessee Titans (Mandatory Credit: The Tennessean) /

It isn’t fair to put the weight of an entire offseason on the shoulders of one player, but this will be the fourth year in a row where that is exactly what Derrick Henry has to do for the Tennessee Titans.

Regardless of what you think about the offenses in the Mike Vrabel era, they have always heavily featured the running game. Under Matt LaFleur that meant a backfield run by committee, under Arthur Smith that meant wide zone runs and a heavy dose of play-action passes, and under Todd Downing, it has meant failure.

It hasn’t mattered whether the running game has been successful or if it has put the rest of the offense in a terrible spot, the Titans have been committed to running the ball and the vast majority of those runs have been designed for Derrick Henry.

Recently the Titans have been more worried about seeding than making the playoffs in the final game of the season, but this year it is much different.

I’m not telling fans anything new here, but the entire narrative of the offseason is going to be determined by this game. Either we will hear that the team fought through adversity and came together to steal a win from the upstart Jacksonville Jaguars, or it will be one of the worst failures by a Tennessee team in franchise history.

At their worst, the defense should be solid but at their best, they are one of the top defenses in the NFL. The variable that will decide this game is the Titans offense, which will almost entirely depend on Derrick Henry’s success, and when you put that all together you can see that Henry’s day is going to be directly tied to the narrative that fans will hear for the next 8 months.

What is at stake if Derrick Henry gets shut down?

Every football fan knows that Henry is going to get 25+ touches on Saturday night and that includes the Jacksonville Jaguars defense which is going to make it very difficult to run the ball in the traditional sense.

The Titans are going to have to find a way to get Henry the ball in space or with a numbers advantage. That can mean more screen passes, wildcat plays, putting him in motion, or using more two-back sets, but they can’t expect to find consistent and sustained success in the obvious way.

If Todd Downing fails to do that (which is what fans expect from him at this point), and if the Titans lose this game it is going to directly impact a lot of people.

With a top-10 pick, the Titans will have to decide whether they want to start a true rebuild or whether they think they just need to add a few more players at depleted positions.

If the team starts a rebuild, that could mean that veterans like Ryan Tannehill, Robert Woods, Taylor Lewan, Denico Autry, Bud Dupree, Zach Cunningham, and Ben Jones are finished with their time as Tennessee Titans just based on their cap hit, and their age.

They aren’t the only ones though. If Mike Vrabel is pulling the strings, veterans who provide less-than-obvious help like Robert Woods, Denico Autry, and Ben Jones might still be on the roster just because he values what they do. However, if Vrabel has lost some of Amy Adams Strunk’s trust in the last seven games, then the next GM might come in and question how much value a running back that turned 29 today, has for a rebuilding team.

This offseason is going to be chaotic and aside from Mike Vrabel, Kevin Byard, Jeffery Simmons, and (probably) Shane Bowen, I don’t think any player or coach is safe. This game is one of those forks in the road where the future of the franchise looks very different depending on the outcome and the outcome will be different depending on how successful Derrick Henry can be.

Talk about a “no pressure” situation.