Chargers TE Hunter Henry is undeniably talented, but he has battled injuries over the past two seasons and therefore has some question marks surrounding him as he faces free agency for the first time. The 2016 second-round selection had a promising rookie campaign in which he caught eight TD passes, the second-highest total for a rookie TE this decade — behind only Rob Gronkowski‘s 10-TD 2010 effort — and he followed that up with a solid sophomore showing.
But in May 2018, he suffered a torn ACL that wiped out the entirety of the 2018 regular season. He returned for the Chargers’ divisional-round contest against the Patriots, but he played in just 20% of the team’s offensive snaps that game and did not catch a pass. Then, he sustained a tibia plateau fracture in Week 1 of the 2019 regular season and missed four games as a result.
Although they accumulated a lot of yards in 2019, the Bolts struggled to convert those yards into points, thanks in large part to shaky quarterback play. Henry, though, did his part, posting 652 receiving yards and five scores, and his yards-per-game output would have amounted to a very good 868 receiving yards if he had played all 16 games. And given the relative dearth of tight end talent in free agency and the draft, it would make sense for the Chargers to re-sign the Arkansas product (the only other tight end who could hit the open market and who could be considered on the same level as Henry is Atlanta’s Austin Hooper, and there’s no guarantee the Falcons let him walk).
But if they cannot agree to a new contract before free agency, LA is expected to use the transition tag on Henry, per Tony Pauline of Pro Football Network. The transition tag is less commonly used than the franchise tag, and while it gives the applying team the right to match any offer a player receives from another club, it does not result in any draft pick compensation should the applying team decline to match. However, no team would give up two first-round picks to sign Henry, so the transition tag makes sense in this case even though it’s only marginally less expensive than the franchise tag ($9.2MM vs. $11MM).
The tight end market is due for a reset, but in light of his health concerns and lack of a true breakout season, Henry may not be the player to reset it. If he elects for the security of a multiyear pact, he may be looking at something akin to the four-year, $29.8MM deal between Darren Waller and the Raiders. Or, if he is hit with the transition tag, he could play out the 2020 campaign on the tag, make a nice salary in the process, and look to jump back into the market in 2021.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.