Derrick Henry in line for major workload after Tennessee Titans release DeMarco Murray

Jay Asser 9/03/2018
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Titans running back Derrick Henry will enter his third year in the NFL.

There are few three-down, all-purpose running backs in today’s NFL, but it looks like Derrick Henry is going to get a crack at being one for the Tennessee Titans.

If Henry’s late-season surge wasn’t enough of an indicator, the Titans released veteran running back DeMarco Murray on Thursday to make it clear they want to hand the backfield reins over to the 24-year-old.

Murray had been Tennessee’s lead back for much of the past two seasons, but managed a career-low 659 yards on 3.6 yards per carry last season after a strong 2016 campaign that saw him tally 1,287 rushing yards, 377 receiving yards and nine total touchdowns.

His age, 30, combined with the $6.5 million he was set to make in 2018, made him a clear cap casualty for the Titans.

With no other candidate to steal major touches on the Titans’ roster – as of right now at least – Henry could be in-line for a significantly heftier workload.

Tennessee have enough incentive to feature him more after using a second-round pick to nab the Heisman Trophy winner in 2016, but may look to free agency or the draft to add a pass-catching back to complement Henry.

Whereas Murray’s versatility made him a weapon in the passing game, Henry hasn’t produced much as a receiver, hauling in just 24 receptions on 32 targets for 273 yards and a score in his first two seasons.

The Titans may believe he has untapped potential as a pass-catcher, but that’s the one area of Henry’s game that could keep him from handling most of the snaps.

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Aqib Talib trade gives Los Angeles Rams one of the NFL's best secondaries

Jay Asser 9/03/2018
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New Rams cornerback Aqib Talib has 34 interceptions in his career.

The Los Angeles Rams aren’t afraid to shake up their roster, that’s for sure.

Less than two weeks after they traded for one talented cornerback with character concerns, the Rams added another to continue their defensive makeover.

Los Angeles finalised a deal to bring in Aqib Talib from the Denver Broncos for a fifth-round pick on Thursday, according to multiple reports, reuniting him with defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and pairing with newly-acquired Marcus Peters to form one of the best cornerback duos in the league.

At 32, Talib is on the backside of his career, but remains one of the game’s premier pass-defenders. Though he failed to intercept more than one pass for the first time in his career last season, Talib was graded as the 15th best cornerback in the NFL by Pro Football Focus.

With the Rams, he won’t have to match-up against the opposing team’s best wide receiver every snap as the younger Peters will share the responsibility.

In Talib and Peters, Los Angeles now have two ball-hawks capable of turning any throw outside of the numbers into a turnover. While the Rams were tied for the sixth-most interceptions in the league in 2017, only seven of those came from cornerbacks. Peters alone had five last year, whereas Talib averages 3.4 per season.

Add in the recent low-cost signing of former Green Bay Packers cornerback Sam Shields – who has 23 interceptions since entering the league in 2010 – along with the return of safeties Lamarcus Joyner and John Johnson, and Los Angeles have managed to construct one of the best secondaries around.

Not only have the Rams improved the back-end of their defence, but they’ve done it by saving cap space.

If the acquisition of Peters was the nail in the coffin of Trumaine Johnson’s tenure with the team, the trade for Talib was the extra swing of the hammer.

After keeping Johnson on the franchise tag for the past two years, the Rams will now almost certainly let the cornerback walk in free agency, with his $16.7 million salary coming off the books.

Peters and Talib, meanwhile, will combine to make $12.7m in 2018 – $11.0m of which is owed to Talib, who is also slated to make $8.0m in 2019.

Talib’s contract was the impetus behind the decision to move on for Denver.

With the younger and better Chris Harris Jr already on the Broncos roster, along with the up-and-coming Bradley Roby, Talib became superfluous.

Considering the situation they were in, Denver did well to get anything in return for a player they were almost surely going to release.

With Talib’s salary wiped away, the Broncos could potentially use their savings to hand Roby a new contract – his contract will expire after his fifth-year option in 2018 – or make a stronger push for quarterback Kirk Cousins.

Regardless of what the fifth-round draft pick they received nets them, Denver have put themselves in a better position to address their biggest weakness at the cost of a modest toll to their greatest strength.

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Le'Veon Bell's future unclear as Pittsburgh Steelers set to franchise tag running back

Jay Asser 6/03/2018
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Le'Veon Bell is one of the best running backs in the NFL.

Le’Veon Bell and the Pittsburgh Steelers are at an impasse, with neither side budging from their position.

With no long-term contract agreed on as of yet, the Steelers will franchise tag Bell for a second consecutive season, paying him $14.5 million for one year.

The running back stated back in January that he’ll consider retirement if forced to play on the franchise tag again and ahead of Tuesday’s deadline he told ESPN that he’s not backing off his stance.

“I just have to decide if I’m going to play when the time comes,” Bell said.

The deadline to work out a long-term deal, however, runs into the summer with the sides having an additional four months to reach an extension before July 16.

If an agreement isn’t reached by then, Bell may choose to skip training camp and even sit out regular season games.

“We’re not coming to a number we both agree on – they are too low, or I guess they feel I’m too high,” Bell said. “I’m playing for strictly my value to the team. That’s what I’m asking. I don’t think I should settle for anything less than what I’m valued at.”

While the $14.5m he’s set to receive on the franchise tag for 2018 is a hefty figure – 120 per cent increase from the $12.12m he played on last season – Bell could be in search of a contract that pays him that much annually over multiple years.

That figure would nearly double the $8.25m per year Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman makes, which is the highest for any player in the same position.

Based on past production though, Bell has a case for setting a new benchmark. Entering last season, no player had ever averaged more yards from scrimmage per game during their first four seasons in the NFL than Bell’s mark of 128.7.

And while his 2017 per-game production didn’t match what he did the previous year, Bell still earned first-team All-Pro honours for racking up 1,291 rushing yards on a league-high 321 carries, while adding 655 receiving yards on 85 receptions. He also found the end zone 11 times (nine rushing, two receiving).

Few running backs in the league can do what Bell does as a three-down player who’s elite as a runner, receiver and pass-blocker.

Other than quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver Antonio Brown, it’s arguable no one on the Steelers is as valuable as Bell.

The problem for him, however, is that he plays a position with a relatively short shelf life and while he’s only 26, it’s possible Pittsburgh believe his best days may be behind him after the heavy load he’s already carried.

Add to that the growing expendability of running backs in the league and Bell may have to settle for something less than the payday he’s looking for.

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