What Will Derrick Henry’s Next Contract Look Like?

Derrick Henry is entering the final year of his contract with the Titans. PFN examines what his next deal could look like, either in Tennessee or elsewhere.

The Tennessee Titans are seemingly stuck between rebuilding and trying to compete in the AFC South, and Derrick Henry is a part of that equation. The veteran running back is entering the final year of his contract and has been mentioned in trade rumors, but for now, he’s still in Tennessee. As he heads toward 2024 free agency, what will Henry’s next contract look like?

Derrick Henry Will Be Disappointed by the Free Agent Market

Henry could theoretically be on a different team by the time the free agent market opens next offseason. Mike Sando of The Athletic recently reported that an NFL decision-maker labeled Henry as a “perfect trade deadline candidate,” while NBC Sports’ Peter King suggested the Titans could make changes — including moving Henry — if they get off to a slow start.

Titans general manager Ran Carthon said he hadn’t received any calls on Henry and designated the trade rumors as “erroneous.”

“We also were apparently trading Jeffery Simmons at one point, and during that entire period, we were negotiating his deal,” Carthon said in April.

Perhaps Tennessee isn’t interested in dealing Henry, but it’s also possible that the Titans haven’t received any interest in him because rival teams are wary of investing in a 29-year-old running back with Henry’s wear and tear.

Henry has led the NFL in rushing attempts in three of the last four seasons, and his 378 carries in 2020 were the 19th-most in a single campaign in league history. In 2021, he handled 218 attempts before breaking his foot and missing the rest of the regular season. Had Henry continued at that pace and stayed healthy the rest of the year, he would have broken Larry Johnson’s single-season NFL carries record (416).

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Henry is a physical marvel, but at some point, those workloads are going to take a toll. It’s only reasonable to expect that he’ll suffer injuries or be forced to give up touches as he ages.

Most running backs hit their wall in their mid-to-late 20s, but even dominant players like Henry are typically depleted by age 30. Since the NFL merger in 1970, there have only been 48 running back seasons in which a player age 30 or older managed at least 1,000 yards on the ground.

That’s fewer than one RB per year. Can Henry overcome history? Maybe, but the odds aren’t in his favor.

If Henry produces a repeat of his 2022 campaign (1,538 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns, 33 receptions), he should be able to land a short-term deal in the same $12.5 million per year range he’s currently earning. While teams are becoming reticent about giving money to veteran running backs, a still-useful Henry could be attractive to a number of contending clubs, especially on a contract with a possible exit after Year 1.

However, if Henry regresses or gets injured, he’ll likely find an extremely soft market. Miles Sanders is 26 years old and coming off a 1,269-11 campaign — he received $6.35 million per year from the Panthers. No free agent running back has reached an $8 million average annual salary since Melvin Gordon signed with the Broncos in 2019.

Henry’s best chance of landing another significant contract might involve a trade. If he gets dealt to a competitive club, helps that team down the stretch run, and performs in the playoffs, Henry could generate enough buzz to find a worthwhile pact in free agency, especially if clubs can convince themselves that he could be a “finishing touch” on an already-functioning offense.

Could the Titans Extend Henry?

The Titans haven’t necessarily tried to replace Henry through the draft, but they’ve certainly tried to find a suitable backup who might profile as a successor.

Tennessee used a 2020 third-round pick on Darrynton Evans, who battled injuries and took only 16 carries with the Titans. Michigan’s Hassan Haskins was Tennessee’s fourth-round choice in 2022, but he handled only 25 attempts during his rookie season. The Titans’ latest swing was Tulane’s Tyjae Spears, their 2023 third-round selection who reportedly has no ACL in one of his knees and is viewed as a potential “one-contract guy.”

Given those repeated failures to find a young running back, could Tennessee extend Henry instead of letting him reach free agency in 2024?

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Probably not. A 30+ running back doesn’t fit with the rest of the Titans’ rebuilding roster, and Carthon would do better to acquire draft capital for Henry at the trade deadline.

But if Tennessee holds on to Henry for the entire season, the franchise tag could come into play. If Henry posts another outstanding campaign, the Titans still probably wouldn’t want to extend him.

Yet, Tennessee could deploy the franchise tender and retain Henry for a one-year projected price tag of $13.717 million. The transition tag, which should be roughly $2.6 million cheaper than the franchise tag but wouldn’t entitle the Titans to draft pick compensation if Henry signed elsewhere, could also be an option.

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