The NFL’s most bruising back is getting paid.
Henry was in line for a $10.2 million salary after signing the franchise tag. His new deal came only minutes before the deadline for teams to sign players under the franchise tag to long-term extensions.
Henry’s deal will put him in the top five of running back salaries, squarely behind the total size and guarantees of Ezekiel Elliott (six years, $90 million), Christian McCaffrey (four years, $64 million) and Le’Veon Bell (four years, $52.5 million).
The contract comes after a breakout 2019 season in which Henry led the NFL in rushing yards and ran the Titans to the AFC championship game.
Derrick Henry broke out in the playoffs
The windfall is well-deserved after Henry posted 1,540 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground, both league bests, as the Titans finally put the weight of the offense on his shoulders.
The 2016 second-round draft pick saw his workload steadily rise over his career, going from 110 carries as a rookie to 176, 215 and finally 303 carries last season. His efficiency never wavered, topping out at 5.1 yards per carry last season.
That performance helped the Titans’ offense catch fire after a slow start last season. Henry and new starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill led the team to a 9-7 record and a wild-card spot, mostly by dominating on the ground.
Derrick Henry rushed for 1,273 yards in the 8-game span from Week 10 through the Divisional Playoffs last season.
That is the 3rd-most rushing yards in ANY 8-game span (including the playoffs) in NFL history (h/t @EliasSports) pic.twitter.com/CSFUfiPwAG
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 15, 2020
Henry’s star rose in the playoffs. He bulldozed the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens via a combined 377 rushing yards and 5.9 yards per carry, leading two upsets that brought the Titans one game from the Super Bowl.
The magic ran out against the Kansas City Chiefs, against whom Henry posted only 69 rushing yards on 19 carries.
Titans running it back with 2019 offense
Considering how hot the team was after Tannehill took over under center, it’s hard to blame the Titans for doing their best to maintain their offense this offseason. From Week 6 on, the Titans went 7-3 while averaging 160.6 rushing yards per game. Meanwhile, Tannehill turned in the best season of his career while destroying teams via play-action.
The Titans have locked down Henry and Tannehill to long-term deals, with Tannehill receiving a four-year, $118 million deal earlier this year. The team’s biggest loss was All-Pro right tackle Jack Conklin, who signed a three-year, $42 million deal with the Cleveland Browns.
The Titans now head into the 2020 season hoping they can replicate all the success they saw when Tannehill entered the picture, which may be enough to win an AFC South featuring a Houston Texans team that had a brutal offseason and an Indianapolis Colts team featuring a new quarterback in Philip Rivers.
As for Henry, the deal is a natural move given how desirable a long-term contract is for running backs. Next year’s free-agent running back class is also crowded, currently headlined by some big names like Alvin Kamara, Dalvin Cook and Aaron Jones.
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