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What the Titans Get With Their Decision to Retain Derrick Henry

The NFL's leading rusher in 2019 was the centerpiece of the offense by season's end

It has to rank as one of the least surprising decisions of the NFL offseason.

Of course, the Tennessee Titans decided to hang on to running back Derrick Henry rather than let him become a free agent.

In this case, they tendered him with the non-exclusive franchise tag. The move guarantees him a one-year contract for $10.278 million but also allows him to negotiate with other teams. If he signs an offer sheet, the Titans have the right to match the offer, which they certainly would do.

After what happened last season, it is impossible to imagine Tennessee’s offense without the NFL’s leading rusher. His power running and big play ability defined that unit and dictated how defenses had to play against it.

Here is closer look at what the Titans get from their decision to keep Henry for at least one more year.

Low mileage: Henry led the NFL with 303 carries in 2019, yet that total does not even crack the top 20 for number of carries in a season over the last decade (it is 21st). Four running backs – Arian Foster, Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy and Ezekiel Elliott – had two seasons each over that span with more than 303. Seven running backs have had more total carries over the past four seasons than Henry, who had 804. By comparison, Ezekiel Elliott, the 2018 rushing champion and the only running back drafted ahead of Henry in 2016, had 847 rushes in his first three seasons.

Big gains: The Titans had 30 plays in 2019 that went for 30 yards or more, and Henry accounted for six of them (20 percent). He had one – a 75-yard touchdown reception – in Week 1 against Cleveland and another – a 53-yard touchdown run – in the regular season finale against Houston – so the threat was there from start to finish. Over the past three seasons, he has scored an NFL-best seven touchdowns on plays of 65 yards or more. Second place in that regard with five is Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill, who has a reputation as a big-play specialist.

A finisher: Over the last two seasons, Henry is second in the NFL with 28 rushing touchdowns. Nearly half of them (13, to be exact) have come on 1-yard runs. Of his 41 career touchdowns (38 rushing, three receiving), 18 have come on plays of three yards or fewer. Sometimes the final yard can be the hardest one to get. It becomes a lot easier with Henry on your side.

Postseason prowess: Henry has been a part of five playoff games thus far in his career. Already, he has the three highest yards-from-scrimmage totals in the franchise’s postseason history. He is the only Titan/Oiler ever with more than 200 in a game and he did it twice – in a row, 204 (182 rushing, 22 receiving) against New England and 202 (195 rushing, seven receiving) against Baltimore. In his first NFL playoff game, 2017 against Kansas City, he racked up 191 scrimmage yards (158 rushing, 35 receiving). Plus, he already is the franchise’s second all-time leading rusher in the postseason even though those in third (Earl Campbell), fourth (Steve McNair) and fifth (Lorenzo White) had more playoff appearances.

A star: You can talk about Henry and statistics all day – the same is true for his high school and college careers – and you will find reasons to be impressed. He is more than just his numbers, though. He is a presence. And he creates belief. Defenses become consumed with trying to stop him. Guys on his team play better simply because he is there. The value of running backs in today’s NFL is a constantly debated subject but Henry is not just any running back. He is a foundation piece – and the Titans likely would have crumbled if they let him go.