Titans Sign Derrick Henry to a $50 Million Contract

Not surprisingly the franchise deadline didn’t have much action but there was one surprising move- the Titans and Derrick Henry finalizing a four year $50 million contract as time was winding down. Pro Football Talk has a look at the contract so lets analyze the contract a bit.

Henry’s $12.5 million per year salary will rank at the low end of the “elite” running back tier, coming in just below the David Johnson $13 million per year contract signed in 2018. His $25.5 million in full guarantees ranks slightly below the group and his injury protected salary is way below the group of players.

PlayerTypeYearsTotal GuaranteeFull GuaranteeNew GuaranteeTotal GPYFull GPY
David JohnsonExtension3$31,882,500$24,682,500$30,000,000$10,627,500$8,227,500
Christian McCaffreyExtension4$36,346,412$30,062,500$25,047,324$9,086,603$7,515,625
Le’Veon BellUFA4$35,000,000$27,000,000$35,000,000$8,750,000$6,750,000
Derrick HenryFranchise4$25,500,000$25,500,000$25,500,000$6,375,000$6,375,000
Ezekiel ElliottExtension6$50,052,137$28,052,137$37,100,000$8,342,023$4,675,356

In this sense the contract is very reasonable for Tennessee (don’t read into the Elliot guarantee per year- on a 4 year basis its very high and for running backs 6 years is worthless to use). The Titans will basically carve out a bit of that low end niche for the “elite” runner which is something the Chargers failed to do (or failed to convince to accept) when they negotiated with Melvin Gordon last year. They were able to use the guarantee to make a contract that wont be nearly as difficult to get out of as the above contracts.

The cash flows of the deal are also somewhat favorable for the Titans, thought not as strong as the guarantee package benefit. His first year cash number is well below David Johnson’s and only slightly above Bell’s. By year 2 he is nearly $5 million under Johnson and $2.5 million under Bell. He remains pretty well under in the third year as well.

PlayerYear 1Year 2Year 3Year 4
Christian McCaffrey$27,863,412$39,863,412$51,863,412$64,063,412
Ezekiel Elliott$24,700,000$37,100,000$48,000,000$58,000,000
David Johnson$18,750,000$30,000,000$39,000,000
Derrick Henry$15,000,000$25,500,000$37,500,000$50,000,000
Le’Veon Bell$14,500,000$28,000,000$39,500,000$52,500,000

The question that I would have is just why did the Titans make this move? He was under contract this season for $10.278 million and next year could have been tagged again for $12.334 million. Ultimately they will pay him $25.5 million over the next two years, a 12.8% raise. Now this is the typical expected raise for a franchise player but those are all for positions where you expect to get three of four years out of the contract going in. For running backs that is much harder to project.

Just based on that alone this was a contract that Henry could not turn down even if he failed to reach the megastar levels he may have hoped for. There is no guarantee he would get tagged again by the Titans and even without a Covid impacted cap there is little reason to believe he would have been offered a salary that was more than $15.22 million from another team next year which is his breakeven level with this contract offer.  

The Titans will gain $4.278 million in cap room in 2020, though they really did not need it unless the rumors of Jadeveon Clowney interest are real and they intend to pay a higher price for him. Over the two year period there will be a total of $3.112 million in cap savings versus going tag to tag which is not much. So I doubt the cap drove this. This leaves them with access to the franchise tag next year but I don’t see anyone on the roster they would be using that for at the moment.

Based on the raise the Titans expectation here has to be that Henry can play for the next three seasons unless they just felt the raise was reasonable for his contributions last year on the playoff run. Rarely do teams plan that way so I would not think it’s the case but strange things happen from time to time in the NFL.

Can Henry play for three years at this level? Only time will tell but historically the odds would be against it. They can get out of the contract with just $6 million dead in 2022 but that would still be more dead than if they never did this deal in the first place.  However in the grand scheme of things they didn’t really take on the gigantic risks these other teams did and they have much more leverage to cut or reduce future salary if things begin to go south in 2021.