Titans GM excited about future with Tyjae Spears with Derrick Henry return unlikely: 'He's made of the right s***'

There may be a sliver of light coming through the door that the Tennessee Titans are leaving open for Derrick Henry, but general manager Ran Carthon has his eyes on his roster's future — and running Tyjae Spears is a big part of it.

Henry, 30, is a free agent and likely won't be franchise tagged. He also wants to play for a Super Bowl contender. After the Titans' regular-season finale — a 28-20 win over the Jacksonville Jaguarshe delivered a heartfelt goodbye to fans at Nissan Stadium and thanked them for eight memorable seasons.

Despite his age and his career workload — 2,030 carries — Henry showed there's still gas left in the tank by reaching the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the fifth time in six seasons. He also recorded a sixth straight season with double-digit touchdowns.

The Titans are in a rebuilding phase, and if Henry wants to win a ring, he'll have to move elsewhere. But if a contract can't be found elsewhere, maybe, just maybe, No. 22 could be back in Tennessee for the 2024 season.

“Derrick and I had a good conversation on the way out. He knows where we [stand], and we know where he [stands]," Carthon said Tuesday morning at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. "... We'll be well-positioned to do whatever we need to do."

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - DECEMBER 24: Tyjae Spears #32 of the Tennessee Titans runs the ball during the game against the Seattle Seahawks at Nissan Stadium on December 24, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee. The Seahawks defeated the Titans 20-17.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

Clearly, Carthon and the Titans are looking at Spears as the starting running back next season. But should Henry fail to catch on elsewhere, it'd be a bonus if he returned to continue to mentor the 22-year-old soon-to-be NFL sophomore.

Carthon did say Henry's future is the most-asked question he's received in his year as GM, but he noted that his main goal is to build for the future and not allow sentimentality to distract him from that.

Looking toward next season, Carton talked up Spears' abilities, praising his work ethic and passion for the game, noting Spears is "one of those guys that's always in the building."

Spears finished with 453 rushing yards on 100 attempts with two touchdowns last season. His workload increased as the season went on, a sign the team was testing him to see if he could handle the pressures that come with being "The Guy."

Judging by Carthon's view, Spears passed the test and the Titans are eager to give him more.

"For a lack of a better of way to put it, he's made of the right s***," Carthon said, "and those are the type of guys that we want to have in our program."