NASHVILLE – The franchise tag was not the Tennessee Titans’ first choice when it came to retaining running back Derrick Henry.
According to general manager Jon Robinson, though, the move did not short-circuit talks that he hopes eventually will lead to a long-term extension for the NFL’s 2019 rushing champion (regular season and playoffs).
“I think anytime a player – when you have to use that tag on them – that is something that, ideally, they probably don’t want,” Robinson said Wednesday on a conference call. “At the same time, I know that (Henry) wants to be a part of this football team. I thought it was good that they communicated back that he does want to be here and does want to keep working on this thing.”
Two years ago, then-Pittsburgh running back Le’Veon Bell famously rebelled against being tagged for the second straight season. Rather than play under the one-year deal, he sat out the entire campaign and in so doing gave up the $14.5 million.
The franchise tag, which comes in three forms (exclusive, non-exclusive and transition), guarantees the player a one-year contract at a salary determined by what other players at the same position earn across the league. In this case, the Titans used the non-exclusive franchise tag, which will pay Henry $10,278 million for 2020.
It is an unappealing option for the clubs because it mandates a significant salary cap hit. For the players, the downside is that it provides no long-term security for a business in which the average playing career lasts fewer than four seasons.
The Titans and Henry have until July 15 to negotiate a long-term deal or they are locked into the one-year, $10.278 million pact for the season.
“It wasn’t something that [he said], ‘OK, well I’ll take it, but I’m done or I’m just going to do whatever,’” Robinson said. “He wants to be here, and he conveyed the message to me – through his agent – that he wants to keep working on this thing. And we do too.”
Henry led the NFL with a career-high 1,540 rushing yards in 2019 and tacked on another 446 in three playoff games. The second-round pick in 2016 finished third in the league with 18 touchdowns (16 rushing, two receiving) and was the only NFL player with at least 200 rushing attempts to average better than 5.0 yards per carry for the season.
He is the first player tagged by the Titans since Robinson became general manager in 2016.
“At the end of the day we couldn’t come to an agreement on (a long-term contract),” Robinson said. “So, we used one of the avenues to keep Derrick because Derrick’s an important part of our football team.
“I’ve spoken to his representatives after we used the tag, and we want to continue to have those discussions and those back and forths in hopes of reaching some type of long-term agreement. … We’ll kick those conversations off again here probably before the training camp gets ramped up and going.”