Derrick Henry

Titans Willing To Tag Derrick Henry

Spoiler alert: the Titans want to keep Derrick Henry. The 2019 rushing champion has carried the Titans to this afternoon’s AFC Championship Game, and if Tennessee should win and advance to the Super Bowl, Henry will be a big reason why.

But the Alabama product is eligible for free agency in March, and we heard last month that the Titans had not had any internal discussions about a new deal for Henry. Since then, Henry has continued to dominate, and he piled up nearly 400 rushing yards in the team’s two playoff wins over New England and Baltimore.

Per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, the Titans want to keep Henry, and they are willing to use the franchise tag if necessary. Of course, the club also wants to retain Ryan Tannhill, so there are some major negotiations looming whenever Tennessee’s season is over.

If the Titans cannot work out a long-term deal with either player by the time they are permitted to use the franchise or transition tag on February 25, they can use one tag on Henry and the other on Tannehill to buy themselves more time (provided that there is not a new labor agreement in place by that point). As Rapoport notes in a separate piece, Tannehill has cashed in on a number of his incentives this year and will pocket $10.25MM for his 2019 performance, though he will get a huge raise in 2020.

Given his ability to take over a game and his fairly light usage over his first two years in the league, Henry will doubtlessly be aiming for the top of the RB market. Tennessee — which entertained trade talks for Henry prior to the 2018 trade deadline — is open to a multi-year pact, but it may have to dole out at least $15MM per year and around $50MM or so in guarantees to get that done.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Injury Updates: Ingram, Haskins, Murray

Here are the key injuries which we’ve seen some reporting on:

  • The Ravens officially clinched the top seed in the AFC with their win over the Browns on Sunday, but Baltimore fans were left holding their breath when running back Mark Ingram went down with a calf injury. Head coach John Harbaugh told reporters after the game there’s no structural damage, but a source told Adam Schefter of ESPN.com that Ingram suffered a calf strain (Twitter link). Ingram was wearing a walking boot after a game, via a tweet from Josina Anderson of ESPN. Harbaugh was trying to sound optimistic, but calf strains can linger. Fortunately for Baltimore, he’ll have Week 17 and a first-round bye to rest.
  • Dwayne Haskins has been getting a lot better recently, so it was unfortunate to see him go down with an ankle injury during the Redskins’ loss to the Giants. Interestingly, Haskins said after the game that he lobbied to return, but owner Dan Snyder personally told him not to go back in, per John Keim of ESPN.com. Normally it’d be unusual for an owner to be consulting directly with a player during a game, but this is the Redskins we’re talking about. Washington is in line for the second overall pick right now, and they could opt to be conservative and sit Haskins in Week 17.
  • Speaking of rookie quarterbacks, Kyler Murray was also knocked out on Sunday with a hamstring injury. Head coach Kliff Kingsbury told reporters after the game he wasn’t sure if Murray would be able to play in Week 17 against the Rams. Murray had a large wrap on his hamstring and if it was bad enough to knock him out immediately he could be up against it to play next week. Brett Hundley, who finished off Arizona’s upset win over the Seahawks, would start next week if he isn’t ready.
  • One last quarterback update, as Mason Rudolph was sidelined with a shoulder injury shortly after being reinserted for a benched Devlin Hodges. The Steelers’ quarterback situation is an absolute mess right now as they prepare for a must-win game against the Ravens. Hodges came back in for Rudolph, and resumed struggling. Rudolph provided an instant spark after relieving Hodges, so he’ll almost certainly start against Baltimore if he’s healthy. Rudolph was seen leaving the stadium with his arm in a sling, per Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Twitter link).
  • The Titans can clinch a playoff berth with a Week 17 win over the Texans, and fortunately they’ll be getting a boost to their offense. Running back Derrick Henry was inactive for their loss to the Saints on Sunday, but he is expected to play against Houston, a source told Schefter (Twitter link). Henry has been dealing with a hamstring issue.
  • The winner of the Week 17 game between the 49ers and Seahawks will determine who wins the NFC West and in turn hosts a playoff game, and both sides are banged up. San Francisco pass-rusher Dee Ford has missed most of the last month with a hamstring injury and he’s not expected to play against Seattle, a source told Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports. They gave up a second-round pick to land Ford this offseason, then signed him to a massive extension, and he’s been a bit of a disappointment. Fortunately for the 49ers, the Seahawks are dealing with even more significant health issues.

Schefter Notes: Henry, Playoffs, Chiefs, DKM

Despite the fact that Derrick Henry is the league’s third-leading rusher with 1,140 yards and is tied for third in rushing touchdowns with 11, the Titans have not had any discussions regarding a potential contract extension with the running back, league sources tell ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The former Alabama standout is in the final year of his rookie deal that he signed back in 2016, when he was taken 45th overall by the Titans. His rookie deal was for $5.40MM, with $3.30MM guaranteed, and a signing bonus of $2.13MM. Clearly, Henry has earned a big pay raise after his stellar production for the team.

As a matter of policy, Schefter notes that the Titans do not do contract extensions in-season with players, and the team currently has 23 players scheduled to become free agents this offseason, including Henry and quarterbacks Ryan Tannehill and Marcus Mariota. Currently, the Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliot is the league’s highest paid running back, having signed a massive six-year, $90MM extension with the team back in September, that included $50MM in guaranteed money.

Over the past 16 weeks dating to last season, Henry leads the NFL with 319 carries, for 1,725 rushing yards and 18 rushing touchdowns, and has added 20 catches for 221 yards and two more touchdowns. The Titans are currently 7-5 and take on the 6-6 Raiders today in Oakland.

Here are some more notes from Schefter:

  • Despite the sub-par play by the teams of the NFC East this year and a chance for the division winner to have a .500 or below record, there is no plan to reseed teams, and the idea “has gotten zero steam. It’s never been a consideration.”, sources tell Schefter. As odd as the records might appear this season, the NFL does not believe there is reason to change its seeding format for future postseasons, either, notes Schefter. So one of the NFC East teams, likely the Cowboys, who sit at 6-7 coming, or the Eagles who sit at 5-7, will wind up hosting a playoff game at a time when its record is worse than that of the wild-card teams that open the postseason on the road.
  • An equipment container that contained some of the Chiefs‘ shoulder pads, helmets, and footballs was not unloaded Saturday and instead accidentally made its way to Newark, New Jersey, where it now is being rushed back to Boston in time for Sunday’s 4:30 p.m. ET kickoff between Kansas City and the Patriots, league sources tell Schefter. The detoured equipment is expected to arrive between 3 and 3:30 p.m. ET, just in time for Sunday’s pivotal match up among the two teams. If the Chiefs did not have the equipment by the time the game started, they would have to forfeit.
  • Anyone who enjoyed ESPN’s Joe Tessitore of Monday Night Football referring to Seattle’s D.K. Metcalf as “Decaf Metcalf” can now drink it as well. A Georgia-based coffee company, Volcanica Coffee, partnered last week with Metcalf to begin selling 16-ounce bags of “Decaf Metcalf” coffee on the company’s website, relays Schefter. Tessitore has blessed the deal, with the rookie and him making sure part of the proceeds will be donated to charities of their choice. Metcalf has had a nice year for the Seahawks, hauling in 44 receptions for 705 yards and five touchdowns.

Titans Discussing Long-Term Contract For Ryan Tannehill

Ryan Tannhill‘s surprising resurgence continues, and Dianna Russini of ESPN.com reports that the Titans are internally discussing a new contract for the 31-year-old signal-caller (Twitter link).

We heard several weeks ago that Tennessee would make an effort to retain Tannehill this offseason if he continued to perform well down the stretch, but Russini’s report suggests that the Titans are now sold on the man who has led them to a 5-1 record since taking over for the disappointing Marcus Mariota.

Indeed, despite rumors that Tennessee could put the franchise tag on Tannehill, Russini suggests that the Titans are not considering the tag but are thinking about the type of contract that would definitively make Tannehill their starting QB for the foreseeable future. That is quite a development for a player who rarely lived up to his billing as a first-round pick with the Dolphins and who was only acquired by Tennessee in an effort to push Mariota.

But Tannehill has the 7-5 Titans in the thick of the AFC playoff race, and outside scouts have been just of fond of his play as Tennessee. Plus, he has been much more than a game manager, as he leads the league with 9.1 yards-per-attempt and a 113.9 QB rating. Given his history, contract negotiations could be complicated, but at this point, it would not be surprising to see Tannhill land something akin to the four-year, $88MM pact (with over $50MM guaranteed) that Nick Foles received from the Jaguars this year.

Interestingly, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com says the Titans have not discussed an extension for running back Derrick Henry, who is also eligible for unrestricted free agency this offseason. While Tannehill has been great, Henry is the motor that makes the Titans’ offense run, and the team has finally committed to giving him a bell cow workload in 2019. With four games left to play, he has already set career-highs in rushing yards (1,140), receiving yards (200), and total TDs (13).

Of course, teams have been hesitant to pay top-dollar for running backs in recent years, and some of those who have taken the plunge have been burned. But given his fairly light usage over his first two years in the league and his ability to dominate a game, Henry would seem to be a good bet for a second contract. The Titans have a policy of not negotiating extensions in-season, but the fact that they have not internally discussed a Henry re-up is surprising.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC South Notes: Henry, Lewan, Jags, Texans

Mystery still surrounds the extent of Titans running back Derrick Henry‘s leg injury, but as of now, there is no official timetable for when to expect the bruising back to return to the field, Titans online’s Jim Wyatt tweets.

The big back has missed a few days of training camp with the injury and was seen in a walking boot. Many do not expect the injury to be a serious one, but it does have an ominous feel to it after the team announced him as day-to-day on Saturday.

After taking over down the stretch in 2018, the former Alabama running back was expected to enter 2019 as the unquestioned workhorse. We will see if those plans are affected by the latest injury, but Tennessee has the likes of Dion Lewis waiting in the wings.

Here’s more from around the AFC South:

  • Titans offensive lineman Taylor Lewan‘s four-game suspension will cost him $3.4MM in base salary, Paul Kuharsky writes. In addition to the base salary, the Titans also be able recoup part of his signing bonus. Lewan was suspension earlier this week for violated the league’s PED policy.
  • Since Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue has held out of camp for four days, he’s currently facing a fine of $160,000, ESPN’s Michael DiRocco tweets. That brings his total fine to $248,650 due to him missing mandatory minicamp. The fourth-year defensive end is expected to report back to the team in early August as he looks for a long-term deal.
  • Texans head coach Bill O’Brien confirmed Lamar Miller is the team’s lead back but the other spots behind him are wide open, ESPN’s Sarah Barshop tweets. Behind Miller, Houston boasts a large collection of unproven backs looking to make an impact, led by D’Onta Foreman.

AFC Notes: Titans, Henry, Jets

Derrick Henry had a very interesting 2018 season. He started off very slowly and grew frustrated with his role splitting time with Dion Lewis in the Titans’ backfield. In eight of the team’s first 12 games, he had 46 or fewer rushing yards. Then he caught fire over the final month of the season, putting in consecutive performances of 238 and 170 yards on the ground. In that 238-yard game he had one of the most electrifying plays of the entire NFL season, with his 99-yard instant-classic touchdown run where he threw multiple defenders to the ground. Henry became the team’s featured back down the stretch, and Lewis got reduced to a bit role.

It created an interesting situation heading into 2019, as Henry enters the final year of his rookie deal. We’ve already heard that Lewis’ roster spot is safe, but it’s unclear how they plan on splitting up work, especially with offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur now gone to Green Bay. Speaking of his contract situation, Paul Kuharsky of PaulKuharsky.com writes that it will be “complicated.” Kuharsky opines that “if he has the big year they need from him, he will command more money than he is worth. And if he doesn’t, then he won’t be worth having.” A second-round pick in 2016, Henry will likely be seeking a big payday next offseason. The coaching staff and front office have never seemed completely enamored with him even when he’s producing, and it’ll be fascinating to see how they handle his free agency. Kuharsky is vehemently against the Titans using the franchise tag on the Alabama running back, writing that the “best hope for the Titans regarding Henry going forward is that he had a very good year and the market is soft for him anyway” next spring.

Here’s more from around the AFC:

  • Speaking of the Titans, it sounds like third-year receiver Taywan Taylor could be ticketed for a bigger role in 2019. The Titans’ receiving situation has been inconsistent at best the past couple of years, and they still need to figure out a starter opposite Corey Davis on the outside. “Honestly, I just think we need to give him more opportunities,” Tennessee’s receivers coach Rob Moore said recently of Taylor, per Jim Wyatt of the team’s official site. Taylor has shown a lot of promise since entering the league as the 72nd overall pick back in 2017, but hasn’t gotten a ton of consistent looks. The Titans signed Adam Humphries to a big contract this offseason, but he’ll be playing mostly out of the slot. Taylor had 466 yards in just 13 games last year, and it sounds like he could have a leg-up on the competition for the starting spot opposite Davis.
  • It sounds like Jamison Crowder is going to have a big role with the Jets. Crowder was always highly regarded during his time in Washington, but never truly broke out and injuries ruined his 2018 campaign. He signed a three-year, $28.5MM deal this offseason, and New York is apparently very high on him, per Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News. Mehta writes that new coach “Adam Gase has made no secret about how much he’ll lean on pass catchers inside the numbers in his scheme.” Crowder will be operating out of the slot, and it looks like he might thrive in Gase’s offense. That spot is important to us,” Gase said of slot receivers. “(It) really kind of creates the tempo of the offense.” He continued by saying “a lot of the slot receivers, historically have been not guys that are threats down the field. He’s a threat down the field, but at the same time he can catch it and create, which is going to be interesting for us because we’ve never had a guy who can really juice it up.” Mehta also writes that Sam Darnold already feels fondly toward his new safety blanket.
  • In case you missed it, Jets left tackle Kelvin Beachum is unlikely to be back with the team in 2020.

South Notes: Panthers, Newton, Titans, Davis, Henry, Buccaneers, Winston

Just three years ago, Cam Newton was the league’s MVP who led the Panthers to a 15-1 record and a Super Bowl appearance. The past two years haven’t gone nearly as well for him, and now Newton is on the “hot seat” according to David Newton of ESPN.com. He notes that 2018 will be a big year for Newton as he starts anew with a new offensive coordinator and scheme.

“If he doesn’t show improvement after consecutive down years, there will be a lot of questions about his future” he writes. Newton is the face of the franchise, but the team could theoretically get out of his contract relatively easily after this season. It would be shocking if it happens, but according to this report, it’s not totally inconceivable that the end of the Cam Newton-era in Carolina could be near if he doesn’t turn things around this season.

Here’s more from the league’s southern divisions:

  • Corey Davis “was one of the stars” of the Titans’ early offseason workouts, according to Jim Wyatt of Titansonline.com. The fifth overall pick in 2017, Davis was somewhat limited by injuries last season, but still flashed a ton of potential. Wyatt notes that Davis “looked smooth during the offseason, snatching the ball out of the air with ease in traffic”, and that the team is “counting on Davis to make a big leap in Year 2.”
  • Jameis Winston‘s suspension may have caught a lot of people by surprise, but it didn’t shock the Buccaneers, according to Rick Stroud of The Tampa Bay Times (Twitter link). Stroud writes that the Bucs had been bracing for the suspension for quite some time, and re-signed Ryan Fitzpatrick back in March knowing they might need him to start some games.
  • “The plan” is for Derrick Henry to be the Titans‘ lead back in 2018, according to Wyatt. The Titans signed Dion Lewis to a four-year, $20MM deal this offseason, but apparently view him as more of a complimentary piece.

Murray Suffered Third Degree MCL Tear

An MRI revealed that Titans running back DeMarco Murray has a third degree MCL tear, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter (Twitter link). The veteran back believes he can play through the injury with the Titans aiming for a playoff spot. DeMarco Murray

This is a change from Schefter original report on Sunday night that Murray sprained his MCL in the Week 16 tilt with the Rams. Murray’s status is still up in the air, with head coach Mike Mularkey saying on Sunday night the back was day-to-day and commenting on his toughness.

The Titans currently own the final wildcard spot in the AFC with an 8-7 record and just need a win vs. the Jaguars, or losses from both the Chargers and Bill, to get into the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Though in front for the final spot, Tennessee has dropped three consecutive games.

If Murray was to be held out of action, 2016 second-round pick Derrick Henry would assume the role of lead back. Henry has been the better back, out-gaining Murray by 34 yards on 36 fewer carries.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Impact Rookies: Tennessee Titans

The old adage that defense wins championships may or may not be true, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a title-winning team that didn’t build heavily through the draft. Rookie classes, naturally, are evaluated on the perceived upside of the NFL newcomers, but which rookies are ready to contribute right out of the gate? And, how do they fit in with their new team schematically?

To help us forecast the immediate future of these NFL neophytes, we enlisted the help of draft guru Dave-Te Thomas who has served as a scouting personnel consultant to NFL teams for multiple decades.

Today, we continue PFR’s Impact Rookie series with Dave-Te Thomas’ insight on the Tennessee Titans’ draft class:

First Round – Jack Conklin, OT (Michigan State, No. 8 overall)

It was apparent after last season that the Titans needed to address their lack of depth on defense, but they also had to add speed on offense. Ultimately, Tennessee started the draft by placing a higher priority in protecting their franchise quarterback and opted to build a formidable front line that already featured two first rounders and four starters selected by the team since the 2013 draft phase. Jack Conklin (vertical)

The Titans watched Ole Miss tackle Laremy Tunsil slide down the board, but he wasn’t the tackle that they wanted when they traded up from No. 15 to No. 8. When they owned the first overall pick in the draft, many draft experts expected that Tunsil was a shoe-in, but all along the Titans were eyeing either Conklin or Notre Dame standout Ronnie Stanley.

Being a Top Ten choice does not always spell instant success, at least where offensive tackles are concerned. Among the 179 offensive tackles to ever be drafted in the first round, four never even played in any NFL games and seven others never started any contests during their pro careers. Since the 1970 draft, five other first round offensive tackle selections never reached double-digit starting figures.

Still, Conklin’s future looks bright and his presence is doubly appreciated following Byron Bell‘s season-ending ankle injury. His injury leaves the door open for Conklin to immediately step in as the new starter at right tackle, joining 2013 first round right guard Chance Warmack, 2014 first round left tackle Taylor Lewan, 2015 third round left guard Jeremiah Poutasi, and 2013 fourth round center Brian Schwenke up front.

Second Round – Austin Johnson, DT (Penn State, No. 43 overall)

Dick LeBeau is placing more emphasis on the 3-4 game this season and second round pick Kevin Dodd is currently sidelined with a foot injury, which means that the team could experiment with Jurrell Casey playing on the edge and DaQuan Jones on the opposite side. That would leave Johnson to battle Al Woods for time in the middle of the front wall.

The former journalism major graduated from school early and was eligible to compete at the 2016 Senior Bowl, where he put on quite a performance throughout the week-long practices. Johnson ranked second among interior defensive linemen in the major college ranks and finished third overall on his team with 70 tackles. That was the most tackles for a Penn State defensive lineman since Jimmy Kennedy (87) in 2002. He also recorded 6.5 sacks among his fifteen stops behind the line of scrimmage in 2015.

With his thick-cut frame, Johnson can play either the zero-gap or line up as a traditional under-tackle when the team utilizes the 4-3 scheme. He’s proven last season that he can be very stout at the point of attack and you have to be impressed with his balance and coordination when attacking the rush lanes, along with his great leg drive and core strength to anchor vs. double teams.

Second Round – Derrick Henry, RB (Alabama, No. 45 overall)

DeMarco Murray is a ball-hungry veteran intent on proving that last season’s debacle in Philadelphia was a one-time thing. If Murray looks strong off the bat, it remains to be seen how playing time in the backfield will be divvied up. Murray only had 193 carries (3.6 avg) last season, but he had his best year when he carried the rock for 392 times for Dallas in 2014.

Henry is a one-time starter who needs room to operate and build his acceleration. He will have the benefit of seeing fellow Tide backfield mate, Jalston Fowler, serving as the team’s lead blocker out of the backfield, but he will still have to vie for “scraps” that Murray leaves on the table. Further complicating the touches available for Tennessee players is the fact that Bishop Sankey, David Cobb, Dexter McCluster, Antonio Andrews, and David Fluellen will all be fighting for the two available slots behind Murray on the depth chart, though Sankey could be traded. Only time will tell if Henry can be a successful runner in the NFL and the same goes for his opportunity level in 2016.

Third Round – Kevin Byard, FS (Middle Tennessee State, No. 64 overall)

Kevin Byard (vertical)Ever since LeBeau became a coordinator, he has surrounded himself with smart, instinctive safeties. Last year, the Titans made a great move by securing the services of former Bills strong safety Da’Norris Searcy. Now, in Byard, they believe they have a ball-hawk free safety to pair with to Searcy’s hard-hitting style. Byard has nineteen interceptions to show for those ball-hawking skills at MTSU, but despite his pedigree and fine performances in practice at the 2016 Senior Bowl, he was not invited to this year’s NFL Scouting Combine. The Titans realized what he can offer, as he not only set the school all-time theft mark, but also returned those interceptions for 377 yards and four touchdowns.

Byard’s arrival does not mean he will be the instant starter at free safety, which is where Arizona castoff Rashad Johnson resides. His versatility (he played every secondary position in college) will see him be called upon to play the slot corner spot in passing situations and he could also be utilized as a Cover-2 linebacker vs. the run. All that stands in his way for playing time is a challenge from veteran Marqueston Huff, along with Daimion Stafford and Lamarcus Brutus for the two safety spots on the second unit.

Fifth Round – Tajae Sharpe, WR (UMass, No. 140 overall)

To hear Marcus Mariota and the offensive coaches during mini-camp, you’d think that they’d hit the lottery with this fifth round find. Nagging injuries limited the UMass receiver to eleven games last year, but he still pulled in 111 balls, breaking the school season-record. He also holds the career marks with 271 receptions for 3,348 yards. His addition gives Mariota another big, physical possession-type receiver, one with very reliable hands and excellent route-running ability.

Sharpe’s arrival could take playing time away from 2015 second rounder Dorial Green-Beckham, who will now compete with aging veteran Harry Douglas for outside receiver chores. Kendall Wright should line up outside on the right side, and Sharpe expected to challenge Miami castoff Rishard Matthews for the slot receiver role. The team plans on keeping five receivers, putting Douglas and 2013 second round pick Justin Hunter on the bubble. Ben Roberts, Tre McBride, Reece Horn and Andrew Turzilli all appear to be “warm bodies” for training camp at this position.

Fifth Round – Sebastian Tretola, OG (Arkansas, No. 193 overall)

Bell’s loss also gives Tretotala a great opportunity for playing time. Bell was also projected to serve as the top reserve guard, but that role will likely fall to the former Razorback. What Tretola lacks in athleticism, he makes up for with his high level of aggression, especially in the running game. He should easily steal away playing time from fellow Titans reserve blockers, Josue Matias, Andy Gallik, Quinton Spain, and Nick Ritcher. That quartet holds one distinction: none of them were ever drafted. The Titans also signed Ben Jones away from the Texans, but he was mainly brought in to challenge Schwenke for the center spot.

Dave-Te Thomas owns and operates The NFL Draft Report, a service which has provided insight to league scouting departments for over 40 years. All year round, can read Thomas’ in-depth reviews of both blue chip prospects and diamonds in the rough by visiting the NFL Draft Report blog. 

 

Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Titans Cut Damaris Johnson, Add 11 UDFAs

The Titans, one of the last teams in the NFL to formally announce their undrafted free agent class, have done so today, confirming in a press release that they’ve agreed to terms with 11 rookies who weren’t selected in the 2016 draft. The team announced that it has reached deals with six members of its ’16 draft class as well.

In addition to bringing in 11 undrafted free agents and locking up six draftees, the team also announced that it has waived two veteran players — wide receiver Damaris Johnson and cornerback Steven Clarke. A former Vanderbilt CB, Clarke spent last summer with the Dolphins but has never appeared in an NFL regular season game. Johnson, on the other hand, has played in 44 career contests, most notably catching 31 balls for 331 yards and a touchdown during the 2014 season for the Texans.

Here’s the complete list of the Titans’ 11 incoming UDFAs:

And here’s the list of Titans draft picks who have agreed to terms with the team so far:

First-round tackle Jack Conklin and second-round edge defender Kevin Dodd are among the draftees who have yet to finalize contracts with the club.