Titans lukewarm on DeMarco Murray's future as Derrick Henry's stock rises

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Tennessee Titans are likely to move into 2018 with Derrick Henry as their lead running back, not DeMarco Murray.

Two weeks away from the start of free agency, the Titans are eager to see what Henry can do in a bigger role and Murray's status with the team looks murky at best.

"He’s under contract," Titans general manager Jon Robinson said Wednesday. "We’ll see how it goes. We’re evaluating everybody on the roster. This time of the year -- free agency -- that’s when the financial components come into things."

Titans head coach Mike Vrabel added: "Jon and I understand he’s under contract and we'll move forward until he’s not under contract."

That time may be winding down. Murray is due a $250,000 roster bonus by March 18. Robinson says there is "no hard set date" to decide Murray's status with the Titans, but it makes sense for the Titans to make a move by that date.

Murray would likely have to take a significant pay cut to return to the Titans in 2018, and even that may not be enough as Henry waits in the wings to take on the feature back role.

The biggest remaining question is whether Henry, a 6-foot-3, 245-pound back with plenty of potential, has the receiving and blocking ability to be a three-down, feature back for the Titans. Robinson believes he can be.

"Yeah, he’s catching the ball better. I thought he caught the ball better this past season than he did his rookie year," Robinson said. "He’s obviously a little bit more acclimated to the pro game, even though those Alabama teams there’s quite a few pro players on those teams. He can be a guy we hand the ball to and throw it to."

Murray has been a Titans starter for the last two seasons. Tennessee got a strong 2016 season from Murray after acquiring him via trade from Philadelphia, but his 2017 was defined by injuries and a lack of explosiveness.

Henry led the Titans in 2017 with 744 rushing yards on 176 carries (4.2 yards per carry). Murray had 659 rushing yards on 184 carries (3.6 yards per carry). Murray was more productive as a receiver, catching more than three times as many passes, and as a blocking back.

But Murray, 30, is on the backside of his career. Henry, 23, is ascending. Robinson said this all will go into the decision.

"You look at the financial component of the contract, the player’s role on the football team, the players you have on the team, players you can get in free agency and players you can get in the draft," Robinson said.

One source familiar with the Titans' running-back dynamic said Henry would likely take exception to taking a back seat or splitting the workload for a third consecutive season. That source said he believes it would affect the Titans' chances to re-sign Henry after his first contract.

Meanwhile, Murray has said he "definitely" believes he can still be a NFL feature back.

Both Robinson and Vrabel were noncommittal about Murray's status with the team. The most praise Murray received was Vrabel calling him a "proven player in this league." The Titans brass seemed more effusive with praise of Henry, their 2016 second-round pick who is ready for a starter role.

"He did a nice job. He had some really strong runs for us," Robinson said. "We’re glad Derrick is on the football team. We look forward to handing it to him, throwing it to him and giving it to him so he can make yards.

"He’s a bigger back as we all know. He has really, really good speed in the open field. He’s a guy who can get downhill."

Robinson also said he believes Henry is a good fit for the Titans' expected switch to a zone-blocking scheme. He said he was excited to get Henry in camp to work together in the new scheme.