Former quarterback discussing NFL options
His past denials aside, Drew Henson will turn his back on baseball when the Columbus Clippers finish their season Monday.
Henson, 23, has reiterated several times in recent months that he would continue pursuing a career with the Yankees, who signed the former University of Michigan quarterback to a five-year, $17 million contract in 2001. Over the weekend, Henson denied broadcast reports indicating he would abandon his baseball career when this season with New York's Triple-A affiliate concluded.
But league sources, as well as several sources close to Henson, have confirmed that after two full seasons in Columbus -- years in which his strikeouts outnumbered his hits -- he will end his quest to play third base in Yankee Stadium.
"It's been a frustrating time and reality has set in now," one source said. "The feeling for a while was that he would play in Arizona (in the winter league), then see how he felt, and make a decision before spring training next year. But he's ready to walk away now."
And to walk away, as well, from a guaranteed $12 million that remains on his Yankees contract. Henson was scheduled to have base salaries of $2.2 million in 2004, $3.8 million in 2005 and $6 million in 2006. Under the exit plan, the Yankees will not have to buy out the contract or reach any sort of settlement.
Henson, who hasn't played football since he started eight games for the Wolverines in the 2000 season, was selected by the Houston Texans in the sixth round of the 2003 NFL draft. In recent weeks, contract discussions between Houston officials and representatives for Henson have accelerated.
The gambit by Texans general manager Charley Casserly, whose team holds Henson's draft rights until the 2004 draft, appears like it will pay off. Even on the second day of the draft, after investing a low-round pick to secure Henson's rights, Casserly mentioned a trade as one of several future options.
It now looks as if Henson, who would prefer not to play behind second-year Texans starter David Carr, will forge his NFL career elsewhere. In fact, that issue is one of many that have been discussed, as the two parties have considered their alternatives.
Others elements include contract structure, the timing of a deal, and at what point Houston would trade Henson to another franchise. According to NFL Players Association figures, the Texans only have about $238,170 remaining in their rookie pool allocation, so if they signed Henson to a contract that included a minimum first-year salary of $225,000, that would leave them only able to award a signing bonus that prorated to $13,000 per year.
Both sides, under such financial constraints, would have to exercise creativity -- likely in the form of so-called "unlikely to be earned" incentives.
Casserly said a few weeks ago that one team had already inquired about what it might take to trade for Henson, who almost certainly would have been a top 10 draft pick had he continued his college football career.
One option for Henson would be to not sign with the Texans, begin work exclusively on preparing for football, then re-enter the draft in 2004, but sources said that scenario is unlikely at this point.
At Michigan, Henson completed 214 of 374 passes for 2,946 yards, with 24 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. He appeared in 27 games and started eight times before bypassing his remaining eligibility and signing with the Yankees.
The Yankees projected him to be their starting third baseman by this season or next, but the franchise acquired Aaron Boone from Cincinnati at the July 31 deadline and hope to keep him long-term. That move may have helped convince Henson that he wouldn't wear Yankee pinstripes anytime soon.
Entering Monday's season finale (the Clippers were eliminated from the playoff chase over the weekend), Henson was hitting .234 in 133 games, with 40 doubles, two triples, 14 home runs and 78 RBI. He had 113 hits and struck out 122 times in 483 official plate appearances. Last season, his first full year in the minors, he hit .240, with 18 home runs, 65 RBI and 151 strikeouts.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.