The Tennessee Titans’ 2023 offseason has been plagued with constant rumors of extreme change in the foundation of the roster.
As Tennessee faces a potential rebuild, of course, the greatest player who has ever played for their franchise (yeah, I said it) is being mentioned in trade talks. If there ever was a time to trade Derrick Henry, it would be now, seeing as he is likely nearing the end of his prime.
Trading their star running back would signify a complete overhaul for the Tennessee Titans, and would be a statement move for GM Ran Carthon’s new regime. It’s no secret; the Titans as we know them don’t exist without Derrick Henry.
However, I think there would be severe ramifications if the Tennessee Titans decided to deal their greatest asset. It would likely not only have a negative impact on team morale but on the fanbase as well.
Does it make sense for the Tennessee Titans to keep Derrick Henry?
I would argue the answer is, surprisingly, yes.
First of all, Carthon’s moves this offseason have indicated that the Titans will not be undertaking a full rebuild. It is still yet to be seen what direction he takes the team, but the signings of Azeez Al-Shaair and Andre Dillard, both young and unproven players with very high potential, seem to confirm ownership’s intentions to keep winning now.
Combine that with the 1-year, 3.5 million dollar deal to Super Bowl Champion cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting and it’s clear that the two-tone blue will not be tanking next season.
It’s also clear that Henry will help Tennessee to continue winning. Despite some of the current narratives floating around, Derrick Henry has actually shown very few signs of regression. Taking a look at his 2022 campaign, King Henry posted 2000+ scrimmage yards and 13 touchdowns in a losing campaign for the Titans, only missing one game.
Coming off of the Jones’ Fracture that sidelined him for 9 games the previous year, Henry managed to earn a Pro Bowl Selection, 9 AP Comeback Player of the Year votes, 12 AP Offensive Player of the Year votes, and even a 5th place AP MVP vote.
Considering that Tennessee is still attempting to win now to some extent, it makes a lot of sense to keep Derrick Henry around. After all, Vrabel and Co. probably wouldn’t have done a lot of winning these past few years without number 22 in the backfield. Fortunately for the Titans, it’s actually remarkably easy to deal with aging running back contracts in the modern NFL.
Henry still has 1 year remaining on the extension he signed before the 2020 season, with a base salary of $10 million and a cap hit of $16 million. It’s worth noting that dealing Henry before June 1st would only save $6 million against the cap, and Tennessee is already one of the top teams in cap space going into next season after a few crafty Carthon cuts and releases.
If the Titans were adamant about keeping their franchise cornerstone for the ‘24 season, it would make a lot of sense to apply the franchise tag. Whether you believe it is ethical or not, the franchise tag is especially beneficial to use on running backs due to their longevity issues. Owners typically do not like to give running backs long-term, higher-paying contracts, which makes it much easier to keep a running back on a franchise tag than other positions.
The Las Vegas Raiders have taken a similar approach this offseason with RB Josh Jacobs, who had an outstanding season in his contract year. The Tennessee Titans could do the same with Derrick Henry in the future, and they’d only have to shell out approximately $15 million to maintain one of the greatest stars of the league. With over $100 million in cap space set to be open next season (the Jeffery Simmons contract will certainly eat into that), the Tennessee Titans are in no way forced to cut ties with Henry.
There’s little precedent so far for what Carthon will do with the Titan’s roster, with key players like Ryan Tannehill, Derrick Henry, Kevin Byard, and Jeffery Simmons hanging in the balance. The future of the roster will likely become more clear, however, as we near the draft in late April.