Buffalo Bills running back Travis Henry has demanded to be traded this offseason due to the team’s decision to start 2003 first-round draft pick Willis McGahee for most of the 2004 season. In an article in Tuesday’s Palm Beach Post, Henry, a native of Frostproof, Fla., said that he wants to be traded to the Miami Dolphins, and also indicated that Oakland, Miami, Carolina, Tampa Bay and Arizona are among the teams that have expressed interest in him.
While Miami desperately needs a feature running back with Ricky Williams leaving the team abruptly before training camp last year, it is doubtful that the Bills would want to aid an AFC East foe and face Henry twice a year. Throw in the fact that the Dolphins don’t have a second-round pick, which is likely Buffalo’s asking price, due to the trade for quarterback A.J. Feeley and a trade between these two teams seems unlikely.
Would Henry be a good fit in Tampa Bay, which desperately needs to upgrade its 29th-ranked running game in 2005? The Bucs have four picks on the first day of the draft, including two in the third round (their own and San Diego’s). PewterReport.com breaks down Henry’s pros and cons as the Bucs try to determine their level of interest in him.
1. Henry is a proven rusher. The 5-foot-9, 215-pound Henry has logged 3,849 rushing yards on 963 carries and scored 27 touchdowns for Buffalo over the past four seasons. As a rookie in 2001, Henry rushed for 729 yards on 213 carries (3.4 avg.) and scored four touchdowns. In 2002, Henry started all 16 games and ran for a career-high 1,438 yards on 325 carries (4.4 avg.) and scored 13 touchdowns. In 2003, Henry missed one start due to injury, but still managed to rush for 1,356 yards on 331 carries (4.1 avg.) and score 10 times. In 2004, Henry missed six games due to rib, ankle and foot injuries and only started five times due to McGahee’s emergence, but managed to run for 326 yards on 94 carries (3.5 avg.). However, Henry has proven that he can be a feature back.
2. Henry has performed well behind a bad offensive line. The fact that Henry was able to churn out two straight seasons of over 1,300 yards rushing and score at least 10 touchdowns during that stretch behind a shaky Buffalo offensive line is definitely a plus. The only star offensive lineman the Bills have is right tackle Mike Williams, a first-round pick in 2002 who did not even emerge as a dominant player until the second half of the 2004 season when Henry was relegated to second-string status behind McGahee. Tampa Bay’s offensive line isn’t any better, but Henry has proven that he can make things happen in the running game on his own.
3. Henry is a good receiver. Being able to catch the ball is critical to running backs in Jon Gruden’s offense, and Henry has good hands. He’s logged 103 catches for 691 yards and scored two touchdowns. His most productive season catching the ball was in 2002 when he also rushed for 1,438 yards. That year, Henry had 43 catches for 309 yards and a touchdown that season. He is coming off a season in which he only caught 10 passes for 45 yards.
4. Henry will come cheap. If the Bucs were to trade for the fifth-year star from Tennessee, Tampa Bay would be obligated to pick up the rest of his original rookie contract, which expires after the 2005 season and calls for him to make just $1.25 million. That’s a bargain for a starting-caliber player who has been as productive as he has been in his young career. The fact that he also wants out of Buffalo so badly and wants to play in Florida may allow the Bucs to hold off from a big contract extension for a year so that he can prove himself to Gruden and Co. The only downside is that he would become a free agent in 2006 and Tampa Bay could be entering a situation similar to the one they faced with Thomas Jones, who was acquired via a trade in 2003 and opted for a lucrative contract in Chicago in 2004 rather than stay with the Bucs.
5. Bruce Allen’s ability to wheel and deal. Although Buffalo’s asking price is rumored to be a second-round pick, Allen, Tampa Bay’s general manager, could finagle a deal that might include a third-round pick and a fifth-round pick this season, as the Bucs have two third- and fifth-round picks. Allen surprised many by getting San Diego’s third- and sixth-round picks for Keenan McCardell in October, and also got good value by trading journeyman left tackle Roman Oben (for San Diego’s fifth-round pick) and wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson (for Cowboys receiver Joey Galloway).
6. Henry has youth on his side. Acquiring Henry could give the Bucs a solid, young nucleus of players on offense with 29-year old Brian Griese at quarterback and 22-year old Michael Clayton at wide receiver. Henry is just 26 years old and appears to have a long, promising NFL career ahead of him if he can avoid major injuries. Good, young players are the type of players the Bucs need to acquire so that they can build for the future.
1. Henry is a fumbler. As a rookie in 2001, he coughed up the ball five times on 235 touches, which led to two turnovers. In 2002, Henry fumbled a whopping 11 times on 368 touches and turned the ball over on eight occasions. In 2003, Henry fumbled seven times on 359 touches, with the Bills losing possession on three of those loose balls. However, Henry did not fumble last year, but only touched the ball 104 times in 10 games. In just four years, Henry has fumbled 23 times and created 13 turnovers. That’s an average of five fumbles and three turnovers per year. With the Buccaneers losing several tight contests last year due in part to Pittman’s late-game fumbles, acquiring a known fumbler may not be a wise move.
2. Henry isn’t a gamebreaker. While there is no doubting the fact that Henry is a 1,000-yard rusher in the NFL, his yardage comes from a multitude of carries rather than in big chunks. Henry’s longest run from scrimmage was a 64-yarder, which came in his third season. As a rookie, his longest run was 25 yards. In 2002, his longest run was a 34-yard jaunt. Henry averages about four runs over 20 yards per year, which is not lot compared to other 1,000-yard running backs who touch the ball as often as he does.
3. Does Henry really want to split carries? Gruden was forced to use Michael Pittman as a featured runner last year after Charlie Garner’s knee injury due to the fact that he had no viable option behind him. Mike Alstott is viewed strictly as a fullback and a short yardage runner and halfbacks Ian Smart and Earnest Graham lack experience. Henry would be thrown into the mix with Pittman and Garner and would have to share the load as Gruden has historically favored a running back-by-committee approach. Henry wants out of Buffalo because he doesn’t want to share carries with McGahee. It’s questionable that he would be happy coming to a crowded backfield situation where he would have to share the ball.
4. Trading for Henry would mean a pricey backfield. Pittman and Garner will each account for roughly $2 million of salary cap room this year. If Henry and his $1.25 million salary in 2005 was acquired, the Bucs backfield would take up about $5.25 million this season, and that’s not including the contracts of Alstott or any other fullback or halfback on the roster. Of course, the Bucs could sign Henry to a long-term deal, giving him a signing bonus and reduce the salary cap impact he’ll have in 2005, but what if Henry didn’t play up to his expectations? Then Tampa Bay would be stuck with him as it is with Garner for at least another season.
5. Henry gets hurt. Henry does not like playing on Buffalo’s artificial turf field and would love to play in a grass stadium. Raymond James Stadium, which is home to the Bucs, is routinely chosen by the NFL players as their favorite field. That might be a welcome sight to a player who has suffered multiple injuries over his young, four-year career. Henry missed three games in 2001 due to a knee sprain, missed one game in 2003 with a chest contusion and a cracked bone in his right leg. In 2004, Henry missed six games due to rib, ankle and foot injuries and may not be fully recovered yet. The Bucs acquired a gimpy Garner last offseason, who was coming off of knee surgery, and didn’t show that he had regained his burst in the first three games of the season before tearing his patella tendon and being lost for the season. Is Henry injury-prone? Or is a function of a heavy workload or playing on the cold, hard turf in Buffalo?
6. Henry could cost a second-round pick. If Allen could not negotiate a better deal than giving up Tampa Bay’s second-round pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, trading for Henry may not be worth it. The Bucs will rotate draft order with three other 5-11 teams and will actually pick sixth in the second round. That represents the 38th overall pick, which could be used to draft a starting tight end or nose tackle rather than acquiring yet another running back. Other teams, such as Oakland or Arizona, may be willing to part with their high second-round draft choice to land Henry in a trade.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Henry is a good player who would be an upgrade over Pittman and Garner as a pure running back. But his receiving ability isn’t superior to either Pittman’s or Garner’s, and overall, Henry isn’t yet in the same caliber as complete backs like Edgerrin James and LaDainian Tomlinson.
If the Bucs had a mid- or late second-round pick, I could see some sense in making the trade. Unless Buffalo would be willing to trade Henry and a lower pick, perhaps a fifth- or sixth-rounder to Tampa Bay for the Bucs’ second-round pick, I doubt if this potential trade scenario is worth doing, especially with the fact that Henry is only under contract for one more season. If Henry wasn’t re-signed after 2005 or given a contract extension upon his arrival in Tampa Bay, the dangerous potential is there for the Bucs to essentially waste a draft pick on a player who might be there for just one year.
The Henry situation is still in its infancy, and the exact level of interest by the Buccaneers is not yet known. Recent media reports have suggested that Arizona may in fact be the front-runner for acquiring him. Remember, just because Henry wants to play in his home state of Florida doesn’t mean it will happen. Buffalo owns his rights and they will be looking for the best deal they can get – Henry’s feelings aside.
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