The new league year is upon us and with that, the deadline for the LA Chargers to place the franchise tag on players is rapidly approaching.
Update (10:40 a.m. PDT): NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reports that the LA Chargers have franchise tagged Hunter Henry.
Thankfully, the LA Chargers don’t have many players that would be under consideration for the franchise tag outside of Hunter Henry. Melvin Gordon is really the only other possibility but all signs seem to be pointing towards both sides moving on from each other. So if general manager Tom Telesco does decide to use the tag this year, it should be on their star tight end.
Generally speaking, the franchise tag is a useful tool for teams to use on players who they deem as having some questions and risk in regards to their long term futures.
Kirk Cousins is one of the most notable players to play on the franchise tag for the Washington Redskins because he played on it for multiple seasons. The team used the tag on him because they were uncertain of where he was in the pecking order around the league and were therefore unsure of his long term potential and value for their franchise.
Another example of a team using the franchise tag is the Pittsburgh Steelers and running back Le’Veon Bell. With Bell, it wasn’t a question of his ability, he was clearly one of the best in the league during his time there, but rather a doubt of whether or not he could ever stay healthy enough to play a whole season.
Henry fits right into both of those discussions. With the way the tight end position is around the league, he certainly brings value to this franchise. There is no doubt that they are better with him on the field. That being said, it’s pretty clear he is not on the same level as George Kittle, Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz.
In terms of the pecking order in the league, everyone else is jostling for position to be in that second tier. Austin Hooper and Darren Waller seem to be on their way there, but each only has one good season to their names. The same can be said for Eric Ebron after 2018.
The risk that Henry brings is injuries, the same as Bell. He’s had a concussion, a knee sprain, a lacerated kidney, an ACL tear and a knee fracture in his four years as a Charger. That has added up to a total of 26 missed games for the former Arkansas standout.
While he is popular amongst the fans and clearly a valuable player, a franchise tag makes sense to mitigate that long term risk and give him the opportunity to prove he can stay healthy. If he misses games again, then there’s no downside to using the tag because it’s a one year contract.
If he plays all 16 games and has a stellar season like he is certainly capable of, then they can sign him to a long term deal next year. No harm, no foul.
Make no mistake about it, Henry needs to be back in Los Angeles next season. The free-agent group this year isn’t great; unless you’re willing to take a shot on an Ebron resurgence or Jimmy Graham resurrection, which I personally am not willing to do. There aren’t really a lot of other options.
The draft class of tight ends this year is solid but it’s one of the hardest positions in the league to make a true impact as a rookie, but drafting a guy like Adam Trautman, Harrison Bryant or Charlie Taumoepeau to develop behind Henry makes a lot of sense.
If Henry were to leave after next season, they’d have another promising and young tight end ready to take his place. If Henry stays long term then they have two such tight ends.
If you are in the market for a true Y…an old school tight end…then Hunter Henry is your man.
— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) February 24, 2020
A lot of this obviously depends on what the LA Chargers decide to do at the quarterback position. If they are really as confident as they say they are in Tyrod Taylor and rolling with a more run-heavy approach, then you don’t really need a guy like Henry.
However, tight ends are a young quarterback’s best friend. So if they draft one in the first two rounds like everyone thinks they will, then bringing Henry back is absolutely necessary.
Ultimately the smart move here is for the LA Chargers to tag him, let him prove he can stay healthy for once and then extend him long term if that happens. There’s too much risk to sign him long term right now as it stands.