Bills general manager Tom Donahoe acknowledged to ESPN.com over the weekend that while the team is still intrigued by the potential of the former University of Michigan quarterback, its chances of reaching an agreement are fading.
By this juncture in the process, Donahoe had hoped to arrange a private workout for Henson, a follow-up to the general audition staged at the Texans complex on Feb. 13. But Donahoe has decided he will not bring Henson to Buffalo until he's convinced the Bills can meet his contract demands.
That hasn't occurred yet and, according to Donahoe, might not happen at all. Sources close to Henson conceded over the weekend it is unlikely the quarterback will work out for Bills coaches and team officials.
"The contract still remains the biggest [impediment]," Donahoe said. "I think we could get a deal with Charley [Casserly, the Texans' general manager], but I don't know that we can figure out the contract part. [Henson] still wants to be paid like a first-rounder but he was only taken in the sixth round. I don't know how you explain that to your owner. How do you [reconcile] that?"
Donahoe voiced similar doubts at the predraft combine in Indianapolis last week.
In an effort to better understand Henson's stance and that of his agents, Donahoe spoke late last week with agent Ken Kremer, but it appears there was little progress.
Kremer and IMG partner Tom Condon have proposed several contract formulas, including one in which Henson's base salaries would be fully guaranteed for 10 years, but none of the structures have satisfied Donahoe's concerns.
Buffalo is committed to Drew Bledsoe as its starter for 2004, but the 11-year veteran is due an $11 million option bonus in November and the franchise needs to start planning for the future.
The team dispatched five representatives, including rookie head coach Mike Mularkey, to Henson's workout earlier this month. The Bills came away with a good first impression, but Donahoe indicated there were some routes Henson never threw, and that he would like to see more of the quarterback in a workout run by Buffalo's coaches.
Unless the contractual puzzle can be solved, with the agents coming up with a model that Donahoe agrees is workable, things might never get to that point.
"I don't think it's a slam dunk," Donahoe reiterated.
The Texans, who used a sixth-round pick in the 2003 draft to secure Henson's rights for the express purpose of trading him, have laid out conditions for a deal.
Casserly is said to be seeking a second-round choice in the 2005 draft. Or he would accept a conditional third-round choice that could eventually escalate to a first-round pick. If Henson reached thresholds to trigger the second scenario, the Texans would take the first-rounder and then give back a second-round pick to the franchise that acquired Henson.
Donahoe termed the Houston asking price as "reasonable," but indicated he might not be prepared to precisely match Casserly's conditions. "Everything is moot, though, until someone shows me a way to handle the contract," Donahoe said.
Casserly noted at the combine last week that he is still confident he will complete a trade before Henson re-enters the draft. The Texans have until noon on April 23, the day before this year's draft begins, to sign Henson and trade him. After that, they will lose his rights and Henson will go into the 2004 draft pool.
It is believed there are three or four others teams interested in Henson, but the Bills were thought to be among the most viable suitors.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.