Derrick Henry feels right at home with Ravens: ‘This is where I knew I wanted to be’


OWINGS MILLS — Derrick Henry all but ended the 2019 Baltimore Ravens’ Super Bowl hopes by himself. The Tennessee Titans’ defense certainly did its job in limiting the mistake-prone Ravens. Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill didn’t turn the ball over. But it was Henry who set the tone in Tennessee’s 28-12 victory over the top-seeded Ravens in the AFC divisional round.

He rushed 30 times for 195 yards, using Ravens safety Earl Thomas as a blocking sled on one of those carries. He caught two passes. He even threw a touchdown pass. Henry bullied a Ravens defense that was used to delivering the abuse, not absorbing it.

By the time the Titans left Baltimore on that January 2020 night, the humbled Ravens had seen more than enough of Henry. The last thing they wanted was an omnipresent reminder of that gut-wrenching loss two weeks later.

That’s exactly what 13 Ravens, John Harbaugh and his coaching staff got at the Pro Bowl. General manager Eric DeCosta met with the Ravens contingent in Orlando, Fla., and found his eyes trained on Henry, the Titans’ battering ram of a running back.

“I watched him, and I watched how the other players related to him,” DeCosta said Thursday. “I saw his humility. This is a guy who ran for like — I don’t know how many yards that season — and all the players kind of gravitated toward him that week, and it was a tremendous respect. That resonated with me as a guy who scouts for a living, and having the chance to kind of step aside and watch his career unfold, it’s been very impressive to me.”

Therein started a Ravens’ fascination of sorts with Henry, which nearly resulted in a pre-trade deal in October of last season but culminated Tuesday when they agreed to terms with the 30-year-old on a two-year, $16 million contract. It made him their first — and to this point, only — outside free-agent addition this week.

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Clad in a purple suit, which he wore to his grandmother’s funeral in 2016 because it was her favorite color, and with his family looking on, Henry looked right at home Thursday at his introductory news conference.

“This is where I knew I wanted to be,” Henry said. “I love the style, the physicality that they play with on all three phases. I feel like it fits my style of play as well. And it really was a no-brainer. (We were) just trying to figure out the business side of things. I’m glad we were able to get it figured out.”

Henry comes to Baltimore after spending eight seasons with the Titans, a prolific period that saw him rush for 9,502 yards, lead the league in rushing twice, total 93 touchdowns, make four Pro Bowl teams, get selected as the 2020 Offensive Player of the Year and earn a reputation as one of the NFL’s most dynamic and physical backs.

Yet, Henry said his first order of business with the Ravens was “earning respect from my teammates.” That won’t be hard, given the challenges Harbaugh’s team has had over the years in trying to stop him.

“I’m trying to figure out who’s more excited on our staff, the offensive coaches or the defensive coaches,” Harbaugh said. “The offensive coaches are pretty fired up, but the defensive coaches, they don’t have to tackle this guy anymore. It’s just great for our team. It’s going to make a difference for us. I know the players are excited, and we can’t wait to get started.”

DeCosta and Harbaugh have said from the start of this offseason that adding to the running back position was a priority. Gus Edwards, J.K. Dobbins, Dalvin Cook and Melvin Gordon, all of whom were on a 2023 Ravens team that led the league in rushing, were unrestricted free agents. Edwards agreed to terms with the Los Angeles Chargers on Monday, a few hours into the two-day negotiating window.

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When the week started, the Ravens had three running backs under contract: veteran Justice Hill and 2023 undrafted free agents Keaton Mitchell and Owen Wright. Mitchell tore up his knee in mid-December and it’s unclear when he’ll be able to return. Thus, signing another back or two (DeCosta said the team is still monitoring the free-agent running back market even after signing Henry) was a must.

As many of the top available running backs, a group that included Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs and Tony Pollard, committed to teams, it became clear for the Ravens that it was either going to be Henry or they would have a hard time making a meaningful free-agent addition to their running back room.

“I had a good indication,” said DeCosta, when asked if Henry was the back the Ravens targeted all along. “To be honest, we tried to trade for Derrick before the trade deadline. I thought there was a reasonable chance that we would get a trade done. It didn’t work out. It was disappointing, but we pivoted. Again, you evaluate the tape. You watch the player. You see the history of the player. You talk to people who have been around the player. It made all the sense in the world for us to target Derrick.”

And for Henry, it made all the sense for him to gravitate toward Baltimore. He cited myriad reasons for his decision during Thursday’s news conference, and they obviously included an opportunity to play behind quarterback Lamar Jackson and for a team that loves running the football.

“(Jackson’s) so dynamic in how he plays, and his playmaking ability, especially me seeing it going against these guys for a little while now,” Henry said. “So, I’m excited to play with him. He had a great year this year, did a lot of great things. We have a lot of great guys in the offense, and I just want to be an added piece to this offense to help them do better than they did last year.”

Henry said he had yet to talk to Jackson, but he anticipated catching up with him soon. To him, though, what made the Ravens such a good fit went beyond a backfield partnership with the game’s most productive running quarterback since Jackson became the team’s starter during the 2018 season.

It was the marriage of football styles. It’s arguably the league’s most physical running back joining a team with perennially one of the league’s most physical and reliable rushing attacks.

When Henry had to face the Ravens, he knew to “buckle your chinstrap, get ready for a 60-minute fight and know that you’re going to take some licks (and) you’re going to have to give some licks.” The same approach can be applied to dealing with Henry.

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Henry has more than 2,000 regular-season carries since entering the NFL as a second-round pick of the Titans in 2016. He’s coming off a season in which he tied a career low by averaging 4.2 yards per carry. His 1,167 rushing yards were his fewest in a full season since 2018.

Asked what he would say to people who insist that his best days are behind him, Henry had a succinct response.

“Tell them to keep watching,” he said. “I’m just here ready to work, ready to get things started and do my best to help this organization.”

(Photo: Wesley Hitt / Getty Images)





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