Derrick Henry’s replacement? Titans must weigh trade, signing for RB

November 1, 2021
Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) celebrates after a touchdown against the Buffalo Bills.

INDIANAPOLIS – Well, that’s a quick end to such a promising Tennessee Titans season.

That’s what you’re thinking, isn’t it? How could you not?

Derrick Henry is one of two players — Ryan Tannehill being the other — that the Titans can’t afford to be without long-term and be the same team, a team that until Monday had growing hopes to contend for the NFL’s big prizes this season.

For the 6-2 Titans, who’d won four in a row and started the week No. 1 in the AFC, Monday morning’s news of Henry’s potentially season-ending foot injury was a cruelly devastating blow.

I’m sorry, Titans fans. There’s just no other way to say it. There’s not another Henry. There’s no replacing that guy and everything he means to his team.

But the Titans are going to have to try.

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They’ll have to transform their identity as a run-heavy offense into one that’ll lean on Tannehill and the passing game and A.J. Brown and Julio Jones.

They’ll also have to move quickly to make sure third-down specialist Jeremy McNichols isn’t the featured option in a backfield that unfortunately had Darrynton Evans go back on injured reserve last week.

OK, it’s bad. Real bad. Goes without saying, and there’s no getting around it.

So what now?

Are there small traces of a silver lining for the Titans? Yes. One is in the timing. This happened just before the NFL’s trade deadline Tuesday, which allows the Titans to move quickly to try to land a Melvin Gordon or Marlon Mack or Ronald Jones or David Johnson or some other potentially available running back to step into the largest shoes in the NFL. Adrian Peterson is also set to work out for the team, NFL Network reported Monday.

None of these running backs will be Henry, of course.

Henry has joked about his bumps and bruises after games, saying that he hides it well. That’s certainly true. He had 28 carries against the Colts on Sunday. Presumably, that was after he broke his foot.

While he clearly wasn’t himself, Henry toughed it out anyway. In doing so, his presence drew attention from the Colts and helped Brown record 10 catches for 155 receiving yards and lead the Titans to an important comeback victory in overtime.

That’s normal for Henry. He has been so relentlessly durable that a serious injury just hasn’t felt possible, because it’d finally be the thing to prove how human he really is after all.

During Sunday’s game, Henry fumbled for the first time this season. It happened on his 199th carry. Ridiculous.

The Titans were deploying him at a rate far higher than any other running back in the league. Too much, you’d think. And maybe so. But it’s Derrick Henry. I’d long ago stopped assuming what he couldn’t do.

Best to keep that in mind this time, too.

It’s obviously early and there’s much we don’t know about the specifics. In the early waves of media reports about this foot injury, Fox’s Jay Glazer said Henry broke the fifth metatarsal in his foot.

Along those same lines, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport didn’t quite rule Henry out for the season. He said on the air that there’s a chance Henry “could return real late in the season if the Titans make a run.”

I wouldn’t bet against Henry.

I’m not sure I’d start betting against the Titans yet, either, even though their odds in 2021 are a lot longer Monday morning than they were Sunday night.

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