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Why Derrick Henry’s Deal Is NOT An Overpay

If you’re reading this, it’s too late – Derrick Henry’s news of a contract has already broken. You can stop incessantly texting the random girl from Nashville you met at a bar literally one time who supposedly has a cousin who works at Nissan Stadium and has connections with people in the Titans front office. She doesn’t have sources. You’re not Adam Shefter, Ian Rapoport, or even Mo Chanel. Better luck next time. 

But now that we’re over it – let’s figure out how this contract compares among the other top running backs in the NFL. Obviously, recency matters most in terms of most sports contracts, so even with COVID, today’s contracts should be a bit ahead of what RBs of a similar tier made in 2018/2019. We’re going to take a deeper look at the top 5 or so RB contracts and compare them to what Henry just signed to. 

In most cases, with guaranteed money as the primary driving force, if a player performs and is worth the 1st half of their contract, it was worth it for the team. This is particularly true in baseball, but applies to the guaranteed money portion of football contracts as well. 

Ezekiel Elliott:

Years: 6

Total money: $90M

Guaranteed money: $50M

Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliott had hilarious reaction after paying off his income-tax bill

This deal isn’t as bad as it seems considering how it was signed early for Zeke. As we know from last summer/fall, he didn’t have a ton of leverage but the Cowboys folded and paid him early. 

The Cowboys are slated to have Zeke in Dallas until 2027, when he’s 32 and has a million miles on his tires. Paying RBs is a difficult thing, considering how injury-prone they are, and even how hard they tend to fall off when it’s over. Guaranteeing $50 million is scary, and leads to some disaster scenarios should Zeke have a Gurley-esque dropoff during/after this 2020 season. His dead cap from being cut in 2021 would be $24.5M, followed by $10.8M, $6.7M, and $2.6M. 

Assuming he remains a top 5ish RB from 2020 to 2023 (his age 25 to 27 seasons), it’s a solid contract. Not a steal, and obviously a bit of risk involved for the Cowboys should he fall off. However, it is Zeke and 4 years into his career he seems to be the epitome of consistently very good at the RB position. The length and high guaranteed money prevents this grade from being higher. BUT, spreading that guaranteed $50M over 6 years is really not as bad as you’d think. 

Bang For Your Buck Grade: B

Christian McCaffrey

Years: 4

Total money: $64M

Guaranteed money: $38M

Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey launches campaign to help health care workers

McCaffrey is the best offensive weapon (non-QB) in the game. His game basically transcends what the typical running back can do. As a result, it’s tough to compare him with more traditional RBs like Zeke and Derrick Henry. This is like when Gronk (and even peak Jimmy Graham to some degree) were getting paid in terms of tight ends while their illustrious receiving stats indicated they might as well be considered as wide receivers.

McCaffrey is the most dynamic back in football, and with good reason. You don’t just stumble into dating Olivia Culpo (the one true Queen of Rhode Island) either, people. He’s an elite talent on AND off the field. 

Olivia Culpo & Christian McCaffrey's Relationship Timeline

As for the contract – pretty modest money considering the pay day CMC could’ve had as a free agent with a heightened salary cap in 2022. He’s only 24, so having him locked up through his age 29 season is probably perfect for the Panthers. The guaranteed money is a little steep for a 4 year deal, but if there’s only a handful of guys in the league I’m willing to risk it on, CMC is one of them. His production is the gamebreaker here and makes this one a great deal for Carolina. Also, with the NFL TV deal ending after 2022, 2023 and beyond could be looking at some BIG incremental team salary cap bumps. That ~$200M salary cap is expected to jump as high as ~$250M by 2023. That sort of bump makes McCaffrey’s money hurt less, assuming he’s still performing. 

Bang For Your Buck Grade: B+

Le’Veon Bell 

Years: 4

Total money: $52.5M

Guaranteed money: $27M

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Honestly, this contract isn’t awful for what Bell was before he sat out all of 2018 and ruined millions of fantasy football seasons. The money checks out to be pretty close to what Henry got from Tennessee. Big deterrent here is Bell’s performance since signing the deal. But, I think Bell’s lack of output is more so because of how the Jets/Adam Gase have failed to fully utilize his offensive potential. He sat out an entire season for this contract, which was lucrative, but not quite the paradigm shifting amount of money we anticipated it to be. 

The money guaranteed isn’t insane, but Bell’s play in 2020 is going to be the biggest factor in how this contract is perceived in the years to come. Due to Gase’s ineptitude, I’ll put Bell’s underwhelming stats in the category of improperly utilized, and give him the benefit of the doubt. As for the money, while it hasn’t been a steal for the Jets, the contract hasn’t killed them by any stretch, and they could easily cut ties with Bell before 2021 with back to back dead cap hits of $4M and $2M in 2021 and 2022. Not ideal, but not exactly devastating cap penalties either. 

Bang For Your Buck Grade: C+

Todd Gurley

Years: 4

Total money: $57.5M 

Guaranteed money: $45M

Todd Gurley's contract extension a big win for the Rams

TOUGH contract. I know hindsight is 20/20 and Gurley was recently released by the Rams, but come on man! What are the Rams doing over there?! His knee injury and subsequent arthritis is something that the Rams didn’t know was coming. BUT, they knew he had some injury history coming out of the University of Georgia in 2015. Biggest mistake was extending him earlier than needed, as the Rams have a history of doing and not having it work out. Sorry to Jared Goff, arguably the worst contract in the NFL. 

Beyond having to pay a player money to play for a team, the Gurley contract was really rough in terms of bang for your buck. Rams cut Gurley and still owed him $20.2M. The guaranteed money KILLS this one, especially on just a 4 year deal. All in all, in terms of dead money against the salary cap, he’s costing them $11.8M and $8.4M in 2020, and 2021. Ironically enough, if the Rams had just held onto him back in 2018, and picked up his 5th year option for 2019, they would’ve let him walk this off-season with $0 cap repercussions. If you’re a Rams fan, that’s gotta hurt. 

Bang For Your Buck Grade: F

David Johnson:

Years: 3

Total money: $39M

Guaranteed money: $31.8M

David Johnson in the bottom third of running backs according to Maurice Jones-Drew - Revenge of the Birds

Pretty insane that Bill O’Brien actually just traded FOR this contract, considering Johnson’s injuries and inconsistency. The guy lost his starting job to Kenyan Drake, for crying out loud. Despite how much the general populous hated the Texans trading DeAndre Hopkins for David Johnson and a 2nd round pick, the contract is what is being evaluated here.

DJ just isn’t what he once was – and it’ll be curious to see how he plays in Houston this upcoming season. Only a 3 year deal so that’s not awful, but nearly $32 million guaranteed across 3 years is what’s bananas. Granted, at this point, the Texans would only have about $2.1M in dead cap should they cut him in 2021. That’s not atrocious, but the fact that it’s very much within the realm of possibility shows it’s just not good value.

It’s easy to forget how good DJ was in 2016, his last full season before he was extended in 2018. Can’t punish Arizona too much for paying someone who had a historically great season, but he clearly just wasn’t the same player post-injury. This contract looks far worse now considering what he’s been as of late. Despite that, we’re going to offset that recency bias and give a passing grade as an ode to the 2016 version of David Johnson.

Bang For Your Buck Grade: C-

Derrick Henry:

Years: 4

Total money: $50M

Guaranteed money: $25.5M

Report: Tennessee Titans offer to Derrick Henry worth 2 franchise tags

It’s not exactly the biggest steal in the world. Though, many consider him a top 3-5 running back in the league, so anything below the 2019 Zeke contract is a win for Tennessee. 

Honestly between the 2 parties of Henry and the Titans, chalk this one up as a win-win. Henry is not by any means a ‘sure thing’. After a slow start to the first 2 years of his career, he’s far from being a staple of consistency. But considering the timing of his dominating 2018 and 2019 seasons, he’s getting paid modestly as a result. The other aspect of the Henry contract was the looming Franchise Tag option pushing Henry’s free agency to 2021. Had that happened, sure Henry finds himself in a LOADED 2021 free agency class in terms of running backs. 

2021 Free Agent RBs

Let me hit you with some names of RBs slated to be free agents in 2021. Alvin Kamara, Dalvin Cook, Aaron Jones, Marlon Mack, Leonard Fournette, Joe Mixon, James Conner, James White, Kenyan Drake, Todd Gurley, Matt Breida, Kareem Hunt, Tarik Cohen, Phillip Lindsay, and more. Frankly, that’s an ABSURD list. You can’t tell me that of the top 5-7 running backs named, all of whom deserve big contracts, that all of them will get paid what they want. Add in the risk of injury to the mix, and Henry is looking like a genius. By signing this contract he’s avoiding the glut of RBs in the 2021 free agency market.

Bang For Your Buck Grade: B+

TL;DR = In short, given the context of other recently top paid running backs, Derrick Henry’s new contract, is NOT an overpay!

-Mike Gilligan (@BigGilli, @VerbalCommitPod and @SmallStateTakes Podcast) – https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/small-state-big-takes/id1432138166 / https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/verbally-committed/id1516871465

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