Even If Derrick Henry, Titans Reach Long-Term Deal, NFL Chaos May Delay Payoff

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterApril 3, 2020

Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry speaks during a media availabiltiy after of an NFL divisional playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Baltimore. The Titans won 28-12. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Nick Wass/Associated Press

When the Tennessee Titans franchise-tagged running back Derrick Henry last month, some around the NFL believed it might prompt him to follow in the footsteps of Le'Veon Bell and sit out for an entire season.

Thankfully for both Henry and the Titans, it appears as though that isn't going to happen.

During a conference call with reporters this week, Tennessee general manager Jon Robinson acknowledged what teams have been saying privately for some time: The relationship between Henry and the Titans is solid, and the chances are increasing that both sides will be able to work out a long-term deal.

""I think any time a player, when you have to use the tag on them, that's something that ideally they probably don't want. But still, at the same time, I know that he wants to be a part of this football team, and I thought it was good that they communicated back he does want to be here and he does want to keep working on this thing. It wasn't something like, 'OK, well, I'll take the (tag) and I'm done, or I am just going to do whatever. 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."

ESPN's Adam Schefter and Dianna Russini reported Thursday that Henry has signed his franchise tag. If he and the Titans don't reach a long-term deal by the July 15 deadline, Henry would earn $10.2 million next season.

For his part, Henry has said he isn't looking to leave.

"I want to stay with the Tennessee Titans," he said this offseason, according to Jim Wyatt of the team website. "They are the ones that took a chance on me—31 teams passed on me on the draft and they selected me. I have a lot of love for Tennessee. I have a lot of love for everyone in that organization."

It's almost always for the best when a player and team agree to a deal that takes the franchise tag out of play. But with the sports world currently in upheaval due to the coronavirus pandemic, it would seem even more important to get the business side of the game settled before what could be a chaotic season ahead.

The league has already canceled OTAs, which call for players to spend extensive time on the field. There will also be time lost when minicamps are wiped from the calendar later in the spring.

So if there are no OTAs or minicamps and training camps are shortened (a distinct possibility), that means less time for offensive lines to work on chemistry not just with each other, but with the backs for whom they're blocking.

Derrick Henry led the NFL with 1,540 rushing yards and 16 rushing touchdowns last season while leading the Titans to the AFC Championship Game.
Derrick Henry led the NFL with 1,540 rushing yards and 16 rushing touchdowns last season while leading the Titans to the AFC Championship Game.Ed Zurga/Associated Press/Associated Press

That abbreviated window of activityespecially the loss of physicality in training camphas led some teams to believe that running games will be slow to get going, especially early in the season.

Defenses always have an advantage over offensive lines early in the year, but the offenses catch up as they play more reps. The lack of offseason work could make that difference even bigger.

Take it from a former offensive lineman who said: "OL will suck this season without practice."

Offensive linemen need far more practice timeand precisionthan their defensive counterparts. Without that, it's far easier for defenses to blow up plays.

Which brings us back to Henry and his fellow runners. The Titans star won't be the only one at risk of a slow start. Everyone from Christian McCaffrey to Ezekiel Elliott to Nick Chubb to Saquon Barkley could struggle to find their rhythm. The lack of offseason work could also affect running quarterbacks like Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes.

That doesn't mean someone like Henry isn't worth big money. Devastating players always are. But the Titans might need a little patience to see any new massive deal pay off.

The league, like the rest of humanity, is adapting to a new world. This is unlike anything the NFL has ever experienced. 

The NFL will adapt. It always does. We just may see a different game once the 2020 season begins.

Aerial attacks may explode out of necessity, at least in the early portion of the season. A lot of offenses might stumble around a bit as they fight not to be overmatched in every way by defenses.

Eventually, Henry will get back to doing the bulldozing he does best, but it likely will take some time. Every player and team will need to adjust after an unprecedented few months.

              

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.

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