With the ink barely dry on a new 4-year $50 million contract, Derrick Henry is living proof that the tide has turned against running backs in the modern-day NFL. With cautionary contracts littering the recent past, most notably Todd Gurley’s mega-deal, running back’s in today’s NFL are struggling for second-contracts.
The wear and tear on running backs is legendary, and their lifespans notoriously short. With an average career length of just 2.57 years, just making it to that second contract is a badge of honor. But as we have seen played out recently, the league is loathed to shell out big money on the players who make it that far at the top of their games.
Derrick Henry was wise to sign
With $25 million in guarantees, Derrick Henry is sure to be a happy man today, and he should be. In a market where players are fighting to get paid, Henry has secured the fifth-highest contract of active running backs.
One of those ahead of him took himself off the field for a year to ensure he got paid when he hit free agency. And Le’Veon Bell’s 4-year $52.5 million contract with $27 million guaranteed is very close to what Derrick Henry just received.
Melvin Gordon held out at the start of last season, looking for a big payday from the Chargers. When it was clear that wasn’t coming he sought a trade. Again no takers. This spring he signed a 2-year $16 million contract.
Money is not easy to come by for the top-echelon of running backs. And it is only the top backs, who bring something special to the table that are earning top dollar, and while Derrick Henry’s deal is $3.5 million less than CMC’s deal, it put him $4 million per year ahead of Kenyan Drake in 6th position.
Because last season Derrick Henry showed something very special. He put the Titans offense on his back and carried them to the AFC Championship game before the Chiefs finally figured out a way to shut him down.
How special was Derrick Henry’s 2019? Of his 1,539 yards, 1,268 were after contact. That’s 82.4% of his yards were after first contact. That’s an incredible number, and that’s why he got paid big money for a running back.
It does go to show how underappreciated running backs are. Rookie Packers backup QB Jordan Love got his entire rookie deal guaranteed. That’s $12,383,453. So over the next four years, a player who hasn’t played a down in the NFL is guaranteed to earn as much as last year’s rushing leader.
On the other side of the ball, just one day earlier, Edge Myles Garrett received a 5-year $125 million contract with $100 million guaranteed. Four times as much guaranteed money as Derrick Henry. Despite the fact Garrett has played a full season just once in his career and is coming off a six-game suspension.
But that’s the reality in today’s NFL. Derrick Henry has maxed out what was available to him, and he is still in a great place to succeed on a team that appreciates him. We can look forward to seeing him pound the rock for at least a few more years.