The New York Jets took a chance on linebacker Erin Henderson before the 2015 season, and he surpassed expectations after missing the entire 2014 campaign. The franchise rewarded him for his efforts on Wednesday with a new contract.
Henderson announced the news via Twitter:
The Jets formally announced the move on Thursday, per Randy Lange of NewYorkJets.com.
Dom Cosentino of NJ.com reported that it's a two-year deal worth up to $5 million. Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News noted Henderson's base salary is $3.1 million with bonuses and escalators possibly getting it to $5 million.
The Jets signed Henderson to a one-year deal for the veteran minimum before 2015, and he impressed as a special teams contributor and eventual regular linebacker in the defensive rotation. That he re-signed with the Jets wasn’t a huge surprise considering Cosentino reported in January that the team was interested in bringing him back.
Cosentino said the Jets and Henderson’s representatives met at the Senior Bowl and began negotiations, and Henderson himself even weighed in this offseason on Twitter when asked if he was coming back: “That's the plan! We'll see how it goes.”
The fact that Henderson even played in 2015 was a testament to his overall determination because he missed the whole 2014 season “to tend to problems with substance abuse,” per Cosentino. The Minnesota Vikings released him after a breakthrough 2013 campaign because of a second DWI arrest in six weeks.
After taking 2014 off, Henderson started 2015 as a special teams player for the Jets but eventually rotated into more defensive action with Demario Davis. Henderson was playing more snaps than Davis by the end of the season, and Cosentino also reported in January that Davis was unlikely to return to the organization because the Jets were working on Henderson’s deal.
Connor Hughes of USA Today said general manager Mike Maccagnan and head coach Todd Bowles “were thrilled” with Henderson in 2015 and saw him as a starter.
This new deal is a testament to that organizational belief.
Henderson’s season with the Jets came after he wondered how he would perform following his off-field issues in 2014, per Tom Pelissero of USA Today:
That's one of the things I'm most curious about—what happens when I can remove a lot of my off-field issues and just play with a clear mind and actually enjoy the game like I used to?
I like to call myself a recovering alcoholic. I understand it's an ongoing battle. It's a lifelong thing. Anybody that's dealt with me, anybody in the Vikings organization, know that the things that transpired aren't me. That was a different person that had taken over my body, pretty much.
The hope in New York now is that Henderson resembles the force he was in 2013, which was his last year as a full-time starter.
Henderson racked up 112 total tackles, four sacks, two interceptions and three passes defended that season and appeared primed to serve as one of the better linebackers in the league for the foreseeable future.
While he will be 30 years old in 2016 and may have lost some athleticism from his time in Minnesota, he certainly made an impact late in the 2015 campaign. He finished with 45 total tackles and one forced fumble, and 34 of those tackles came in his final six games when he consistently saw more action.
He even finished with 11 tackles in the season finale against the Buffalo Bills.
Henderson looked like the playmaking linebacker who flew around the field in 2013, and the Jets reacted accordingly this offseason. Theoretically, he should be fresher than many 30-year-olds because he missed 2014 and had to work his way back into the lineup last year.
A fresh and motivated Henderson should make the Jets defense that much stronger as they attempt to reach the postseason for the first time since the 2010 season.