With less than an hour remaining until this year’s deadline for franchise-tagged players to sign extensions, the Titans appear to have a deal done. They have agreed to terms with Derrick Henry on a long-term contract, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. The Titans announced the extension.
This has been a historically quiet tag deadline, due largely to the financial uncertainty the pandemic has caused. And as recently as Tuesday, the Titans and Henry were believed to be too far apart. But they stayed in contact and have finalized an agreement. It’s a four-year pact, Jay Glazer of Fox Sports reports (on Twitter).
The Titans and Henry worked on a deal for months. The final result: a four-year, $50MM agreement, with Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweeting $25.5MM will be guaranteed. This $12.5MM-per-year pact comes in fifth among active backs, but with two years being essentially guaranteed, it will give the reigning rushing champion security at a position that largely lacks it.
Per Field Yates of ESPN.com (via Twitter), the deal includes a $12MM signing bonus and a first-year cash flow of $15MM, a nice increase from the $10.278MM Henry was due to earn on the franchise tender. It also creates over $4MM of cap space this year for the Titans, giving them more than $24MM to spend. Tennessee could opt to roll most of that money over into 2021 to guard against a salary cap drop, but the club clearly has the ability to add more talent (see: Jadeveon Clowney).
The running back market spike from 2018-19, for the most part, did not reward teams who authorized the big-money deals. And the loaded 2017 running back draft class may be set to make the 2021 free agency class a buyer’s market, especially considering the cap implications COVID-19 could cause. But the Titans moved forward anyway and will now have Henry and Ryan Tannehill signed to long-term deals, rewarding the duo most responsible for the team’s first AFC championship game berth in 17 years.
Henry is coming off one of the better contract years in recent memory, following up his rushing title with dominant performances in Titans upset wins over the Patriots and Ravens in the playoffs. The former Heisman winner and second-round pick has been one of the league’s best backs over the past season and change, beginning his breakout late in the 2018 campaign.
Adding to the intrigue behind this deal: Henry’s throwback skill set offers little in the passing game, separating him from the recent group of backs — Todd Gurley, David Johnson, Le’Veon Bell and Ezekiel Elliott — to sign market-reshaping contracts. The previous recipient of a monster running back extension — Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey — is perhaps the game’s premier dual-threat option. Tennessee, however, has built a run-oriented offense around its top back. And Henry, despite his bulldozing style, has only totaled 804 carries. That ranks eighth among backs since 2016.
Despite 15 players being tagged this offseason, Henry is only the second to sign an extension. He follows the Chiefs’ Chris Jones. The other teams who have used the tag are a half-hour away from carrying the tag salaries on their respective payrolls this season. The NFL moved the start of the league year back multiple times because of the CBA ratification process, but the league keeping the tag deadline in place has likely caused most teams to stand down amid the uncertainty the coronavirus has injected into the NFL’s future.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.