The “Yulee Bulldozer” spent all offseason waiting to get paid. Just hours before the NFL’s trade deadline, Derrick Henry and the Tennessee Titans reached a deal.
After claiming the NFL’s 2019 rushing title and propelling the Titans to an AFC Championship appearance against the eventual Super Bowl champions in the Kansas City Chiefs, the Titans are rewarding their feature back with a four-year deal, according to NFL reporter Ian Rapaport.
The #Titans and RB Derrick Henry have agreed on a 4-year deal, sources say. For any running back to get paid, it takes a perfect scenario. Both sides worked and it’s happening. That’s two deadline deals. 💰💰💰
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) July 15, 2020
ESPN’s Adam Schefter went on to drop the financial details of the deal, which has Henry making $50 million over the four-year deal with over half of it guaranteed.
Titans and RB Derrick Henry is signing a four-year, $50 million contract that includes $25.5 million guaranteed, source tells ESPN.
In one off-season, the Titans keep both Henry and Ryan Tannehill on long-term deals.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) July 15, 2020
Henry amassed 1,540 rushing yards and 16 regular-season touchdowns in 15 games, adding 206 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns to boot.
The Titan was a selection to the 2019 Pro Bowl, but did not receive a first-team All-Pro accolade, which instead went to Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffery.
But all things considered, one can’t imagine that Henry is all that heartbroken after receiving a new deal.
Details on Last-Second Dealing
With the NFL’s franchise-tag deadline coming at 4 p.m. ET, Henry and Tennessee were running into a serious problem in terms of both parties walking away happy.
However, according to the NFL’s Ian Rapaport, Henry and the Titans’ front office have been in consistent communication through the offseason in efforts to get the former Alabama star’s new deal done.
The #Titans and RB Derrick Henry have stayed in contact the entire time, slowly working on an extension more than the two franchise tags. They are close. When two sides want to get it done…
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) July 15, 2020
Compared to situations like quarterback Dak Prescott’s dealings with the Dallas Cowboys, this seems much lighter. While Henry likely drove a hard bargain in order to get paid appropriately, which is more important for a feature running back than ever, the 26-year-old was apparently invested in staying in Nashville and with Titans head coach Mike Vrabel.
NFL reporter Field Yates tacked on to this point by explaining how the running back class of 2021, both from college as well as potential free agents, means that Henry’s value was only going to decrease by staying.
Derrick Henry is coming off of the best season of his career, leading the NFL in rushing and carrying Tennessee deep in the playoffs. The 2021 free agent class and draft are stacked with backs. There is future cap uncertainty. His value is at its apex. A deal now is a major win.
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) July 15, 2020
From the Titans’ perspective, it’s one less thing to worry about and keeps the most valuable offensive player from the past two seasons on the team and happy. Henry may run angry, but the Nashville front office doesn’t want him angry in any other scenario.
Henry’s Journey to Getting Paid
When Henry first joined the Titans in the second-round of the 2016 NFL Draft, he was coming into a team that already committed to a feature back in free agency: DeMarco Murray.
With hindsight, it’s easy to wonder why Henry never seemed to get enough touches, but in his rookie year, Murray totaled 1,287 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on his way to a Pro Bowl selection.
2017 saw Henry take more responsibility, but still wasn’t treated as the feature back he was as a Heisman winner in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. That didn’t come until 2018.
The addition of Dion Lewis initially saw Henry split carries, but as the season went on, the Bulldozer picked up pace, eventually finishing with 1,059 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns.
That made the decision relatively easy for the Titans in 2020: commit to Henry. The results showed, as his power-running set up quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the Tennessee offense for a simple but effective attack that nearly took Henry, Vrabel and the rest of the team to Super Bowl LIV.
Evan Reier is a sportswriter covering the NFL for Heavy.com and local sports for the Montana Standard in Butte, Mont. Reach out to him on Twitter at @evanreier and join our 49ers community at Heavy on 49ers on Facebook.