Bama in NFL: Titans franchise tag on Derrick Henry has risk for both parties

(Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)
(Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images) /

Why a franchise tag decision by the Tennessee Titans is not good for Derrick Henry and less than his performance has earned.

Derrick Henry cannot be happy with the Tennessee Titans ownership. The team decided on Monday to use a franchise tag on Henry, rather than negotiating a new multi-year contract.

Last season, Derrick Henry led the NFL in rushing yards and proved himself to be one of the top running backs in the league. Perhaps had the recent new contract with quarterback Ryan Tannehill not been so generous, the Titans could have allocated more money to a new deal for Derrick.

Alabama Crimson Tide fans will be disappointed for Derrick Henry. More than a few Tennessee Titans fans will be disappointed as well. In fairness to the team, the NFL does not value running backs as highly as it did even five years ago. Quarterbacks, offensive linemen and receivers have become more important to today’s NFL offenses. Add to that the shorter shelf-life of running backs and massive money is infrequently thrown at running backs.

The Dallas Cowboys’ contract extension for Ezekiel Elliott is an exception. It was for $90 million with $50 million guaranteed. But because it does not kick in until the 2021 season, the Cowboys will be able to shed Elliott after five years of the new deal and save themselves close to $25 million rather than keeping Elliott as an older running back. For an  NFL contract, the deal is better than most, for the Cowboys and Elliott.

With the franchise tag, the Titans and Derrick have until mid-July to work out a one-year deal. He will have to be paid at an average for the top running backs in the NFL over the last five seasons. That means at least $10 million for the 2020 season, all guaranteed.

What would a new deal have meant for Henry had he not have been franchised? Luke Worsham of AtoZ Sports Nashville projected the terms shown below.

"Length: Five yearsTotal value: $71.375 millionGuaranteed money: $45 millionAverage annual value: $14.275 millionGuarantees left after year three (age 29): $4.2 millionGuarantees left after year four (age 30): $1.8 million"

The guaranteed money is more important than the annual salary in NFL deals. Based on Wortham’s estimate, Derrick Henry may be thinking he is walking away from $35 million by accepting a new Titans one-year offer.

The Titans and Henry can still negotiate a multi-year deal, up to the mid-July deadline. After that, a player either accepts the one-year, franchise rated deal or as Le’Veon Bell did, sits out.

Both parties are at risk. The Titans might have arguably the best running back in the NFL, sit for a season. Henry could accept a one-year deal, get seriously injured and never earn the kind of big, guaranteed money his performance warrants.

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Is Derrick Henry being treated unfairly? It is important to remember the teams and players must make business decisions. Hopefully, it will work out for Derrick.