One of the Tennessee Titans’ best offensive players, running back Derrick Henry, needs a new contract.
Here’s what an extension with the Titans, or a contract with a different team in free agency, could look like.
The seemingly lengthy durations of recent, big-time running back contract extensions have been a bit deceptive.
Perhaps the best example is the contract that the Dallas Cowboys gave Ezekiel Elliott before last season.
Elliott was heading into the fourth year of his rookie deal when the Cowboys gave him a six-year, $90 million contract with $50 million guaranteed. Because he still had two years left under contract when he held out and got the extension, the six-year deal won’t kick in until the 2021 season.
He signed the contract at age 24, it will kick in at age 26 and it will end at age 31. Should Elliott play out the length of the contract, it will expire eight years after he initially signed it.
On the surface, it sounds crazy for a team to commit to a running back—arguably the position that Father Time is the least kind to—for eight years.
However, that’s not really what the Cowboys did.
What the Cowboys did do is give themselves a great deal of flexibility as Elliott’s contract enters its second half.
After just three years of the deal, when Elliott would be heading into his age-29 season, the Cowboys could cut him and owe him just $2.6 million. If they kept Elliott one more year after that and, then, wanted to cut him before he turned 30, they could do so without any cap penalty.
To put that $2.6 million figure into perspective, if the Titans were to cut struggling kicker Ryan Succop before the 2020 season, a move that many expect, they would owe him $2.1 million.
The small figure is the case because of how Elliott’s contract was structured. His $50 million of guaranteed money will be almost entirely paid out after three years of the deal, and it will be entirely paid out by the end of year four.
The remaining $32 million beyond that point would be non-guaranteed salary that the Cowboys could opt out of if they desired.
Elliott isn’t the only recently-extended running back with a contract structured that way. Rams RB Todd Gurley’s four-year, $57.5 million extension similarly gives an easy out halfway into the deal.
Once the contract reaches its halfway point after the 2021 season, when Gurley will be just 27, the Rams could opt out and owe Gurley a mere $4.2 million.
The Jets’ Le’Veon Bell, who signed a contract as a free agent in 2019 following a holdout season, will have just $4 million of guarantees left after the upcoming season
While it’s certainly the nature of NFL contracts for teams to be able to move on in the later years of deals without steep financial repercussions, running backs seem to take it to another level.
With that being the case, the Titans have no reason to shy away from giving Henry at least a five-year contract, and Henry has no reason to accept anything less.
He will be 26 next season, the same age that Elliott and Gurley will be when their extensions kick in. Unlike Gurley, who got just a four-year extension, Henry doesn’t have a shaky injury history.
As the NFL’s leading rusher and with the precedent for recent RB extensions being the way that it is, Henry has the leverage to demand a five-year contract with $4.2 million in guarantees left after year three and around $1.8 after year four.
That would mean there would be no way for the Titans to end the deal prematurely and owe Henry nothing, but it would mean that they could move on with minimal loss before Henry’s age-30 season.
— Titans Film Room (@titansfilmroom) February 6, 2020
While Henry might not quite have the leverage due to being a mostly one-dimensional player to make more money than the whopping amount the Cowboys gave Elliott, he can probably fairly expect to get a similar, but smaller, figure.
Elliot, as the NFL’s highest-paid running back, will make a whopping $15 million per year, on average, throughout his six-year deal. That’s a lot of money for a running back, and probably more than the Titans or any other team would be willing to give Henry.
Gurley, by comparison, makes an annual average of $14.375 million. Bell’s AAV is $13.125 million.
Henry is most likely to get a contract, in terms of salary, on Gurley’s level. Bell was older and had just sat out for a year when he got his contract, so Henry has the leverage to make more than that.
Inflation over the time since Gurley signed his deal would seemingly dictate Henry making more than him, but Gurley was coming off of winning Offensive Player of the Year when he got his deal.
As good as Henry’s 2019 season was, Gurley’s 2017 was just a little bit better.
It would, therefore, make sense for Henry’s AAV to be somewhere in the ballpark of $14.275 million.
When it comes to guaranteed money among the NFL’s highest-paid backs, Elliott still leads the way with his $50 million figure.
Gurley is next with $45 million, though his guaranteed money is over a four-year contract, giving him a better overall value of guarantees than Elliott.
There is no reason for Henry to not be able to get Gurley’s amount of guarantees over a five-year deal.
PROJECTED CONTRACT FOR DERRICK HENRY
- Length: Five years
- Total value: $71.375 million
- Guaranteed money: $45 million
- Average annual value: $14.275 million
- Guarantees left after year three (age 29): $4.2 million
- Guarantees left after year four (age 30): $1.8 million
Cover photo: Denny Medley/USA Today