National Football League
Derrick Henry’s departure was inevitable as Titans build pass-first offense
National Football League

Derrick Henry’s departure was inevitable as Titans build pass-first offense

Published Mar. 12, 2024 1:49 p.m. ET

Derrick Henry's departure from the Tennessee Titans felt inevitable before it became official Tuesday, when he confirmed that he had agreed to terms with the Baltimore Ravens. It has felt inevitable for a while, even with new coach Brian Callahan and general manager Ran Carthon never ruling out a return. 

Dating back to last season's trade deadline, there had been speculation Henry could be moved. Then he bid farewell after Tennessee's final home game in 2023, grabbing the microphone at Nissan Stadium to thank fans for the "greatest eight years of my life." The Titans are a team now completely in a rebuild, led by an offensive-minded Callahan who prioritizes the pass, a sharp contrast to the run-first schemes built around Henry the past several years. 

The writing had been on the wall. Then the franchise agreed to terms on a contract Monday with former Cowboys running back Tony Pollard, a league source confirmed to FOX Sports. 

And the reality is that this parting of ways is the best for both sides, even if it's painful for Nashville. Even with all the memories Henry gave the city and franchise as one of its most iconic players ever. Like his legendary run in the 2019 postseason to carry the Titans to the AFC Championship Game. All the stiff arms. All the times he wore down opponents late and iced games in the fourth quarter, with "Henry!" chants ringing throughout Nissan Stadium. 


Henry ranks first in franchise history with 90 rushing touchdowns and second in carries (2,030) and rushing yards (9,502). What's most impressive is his sustained greatness past his prime running back years. He has started to enter the same breath as the likes of Adrian Peterson and Frank Gore, who found success well into their 30s. 

Now 30, Henry is coming off a season with 1,167 yards — second in the league — playing behind one of the NFL's worst offensive lines. He has ranked first or second in rushing in four of the past five seasons. The year he didn't, 2021, is when he missed nine games with a Jones fracture in his right foot — and he still ranked ninth in the league with 937 rushing yards. 

For Henry, the Ravens give him a chance to compete for a Super Bowl. He joins two-time league MVP Lamar Jackson to form what has the potential to be one of the most fascinating rushing attacks in NFL history. 

For the Titans, Henry's departure allows Callahan to build his pass-first offense around quarterback Will Levis.

Pollard and promising second-year running back Tyjae Spears give Callahan a backfield that doesn't tip off opponents about what's coming. At the combine, Callahan mentioned that he doesn't believe that running backs have been devalued. He believes, rather, that there's been a division of labor at the position. Pairing Pollard with Spears speaks to that belief, as they're expected to split the load in Nashville.  

Derrick Henry agrees to two-year, $16 million deal with Ravens

Both have pass-catching value, which we've learned Callahan holds at a premium. Pollard has had at least 39 receptions each of the past three seasons, never finishing with fewer than 300 receiving yards. Spears had 52 receptions for 385 yards and a touchdown as a rookie. Henry has been more involved in the passing game the past two seasons, but it's never been a strength. He's had fewer than 20 receptions in six of his eight NFL seasons. 

Pollard and Spears are dynamic, too. Pollard, who has posted consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons, had 819 yards after contact in 2023, third-most in the league, according to Next Gen Stats. Spears had 1,108 all-purpose yards last season, showcasing his shiftiness as a versatile weapon. At the combine, Carthon gave the former Tulane star rave reviews, saying he's made of "the right s---." 

The expected signing of free-agent center Lloyd Cushenberry to a record-setting contract also fits into the Titans' pass-first scheme. Of the 31 centers who played at least 461 pass-block snaps last season, Cushennberry ranked second with 14 pressures allowed and tied for second with just one sack allowed, according to Pro Football Focus. 

Henry is on a Hall-of-Fame trajectory. He'll one day be in the Titans/Oilers Ring of Honor, where he'll be immortalized with the other greats of the franchise. 

But today is not that day. 

For now, he leaves Nashville — and it's for the best.

Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for for three seasons (2018-20) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.


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