The Tennessee Titans aren’t trying to operate exactly like the New England Patriots.
But there’s no denying the influence the Patriots have had on Titans general manager Jon Robinson (a scout/director of scouting in New England for over 10 years) and head coach Mike Vrabel (played for the Patriots from 2001-08).
Since arriving in Nashville in early 2016, Robinson has signed several former Patriots to contracts, including Dion Lewis, Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan.
The Titans might be trying to find their own way as a franchise, but there’s a definite Patriot influence that’s present.
And that Patriot influence might give us a hint when it comes to Robinson’s upcoming decision on running back Derrick Henry.
Henry is in line for a massive contract after leading the NFL in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns in 2019.
But will the Titans be inclined to give Henry a contract that’s projected to be worth north of $70 million with around $45 million in guarantees?
(Contract projection via A to Z Sports’ Luke Worsham.)
Robinson’s history with the Patriots suggests the answer to that question is no.
New England doesn’t mind dishing out big contracts. They’ve paid big for players in the past, handing out massive pay days to Rob Gronkowski, Darrelle Revis, Devin McCourty, Stephen Gostkowski, Jerod Mayo, Logan Mankins, and, of course, Tom Brady.
Each of those contracts were, at the time, among the richest in the NFL for their respective position groups.
The Patriots, however, have typically not been willing to spend big on a running back.
New England is actually committed to spending a lot of money at the running back position, but they like to spread it out.
In 2019, the Patriots spent the most money in the league on running backs, but it was spent on five players. James White had the biggest cap hit for the Patriots entering last season at $4.63 million, followed by Rex Burkhead at $3 million and Sony Michel at $2.19 million.
New England’s philosophy is simple — they don’t want to spend an exorbitant amount on a single running back who might not hold up for the entire season.
Essentially, they believe there’s strength in numbers when it comes to running backs.
Now, I’m sure there are some folks who are ready to point out that Robinson signed Lewis to a four year deal worth $20 million in 2018.
But I actually think the signing of Lewis is 2018 could factor into Robinson’s decision to not re-sign Henry.
Lewis was solid in 2018 for Tennessee (917 total yards from scrimmage), but he was almost non-existent in 2019 (due to the emergence of Henry).
It’s not unreasonable to say that Lewis hasn’t lived up to his AAV of $5 million. It’s possible that Robinson looks at the Lewis deal as one that he wouldn’t make if he had it do over again. And it could make him question giving Henry a mega-deal this offseason.
Based on Robinson’s past with the Patriots, and how he’s operated since becoming the Titans’ general manager, I think there are plenty of clues to suggest that Tennessee won’t re-sign Henry.
That’s not to say I think that’s the path they should take, though. If the Titans want their offense to continue to run through the running back position, then they should re-sign Henry — he’s among the best running backs in the NFL.
But if the Titans want to mold their offense based on their personnel, like the Patriots have done for years, then I could see them looking for a more economical option that allows Robinson to upgrade other areas of the roster.
Featured image via Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports/Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports