Henry fills void in Broncos' backfield

Updated: March 6, 2007, 11:50 AM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

Filling their need for a proven tailback, the Denver Broncos on Monday reached a contract agreement with Travis Henry, who was released on Saturday by the Tenenessee Titans to avoid paying him an $8.3 million roster bonus.

Faces In The Crowd
Travis Henry

Regardless of the identity of its rushing leaders, Denver's offense has been steadily productive in the last decade. Travis Henry, right, who rushed for 1,211 yards for the Titans in 2006, now stands to benefit from being the featured back in Denver's system. A look at the franchise's annual rushing leaders (since '99):

Season Player Yardage
2006 Tatum Bell 1,025
2005 Mike Anderson 1,014
2004 Reuben Droughns 1,240
2003 Clinton Portis 1,591
2002 Clinton Portis 1,508
2001 Terrell Davis 701
2000 Mike Anderson 1,500
1999 Olandis Gary 1,159

Henry signed a five-year contract that includes $12 million in guarantees.

"It's a great situation," Henry said. "Everybody knows about the running offense [in Denver] and how productive it has been over the years. If you want to get the football a lot, isn't this the offense for you? It just seems like it is tailor-made for me and I'm looking forward to playing in it."

Indeed, Henry figures to become the latest beneficiary of a running game design that systematically churns out 1,000-yard rushers. And his running style certainly fits the "one cut" design of a Denver ground game that features zone blocking.

During the 12-year stewardship of head coach Mike Shanahan, the Broncos ranked in the top 10 in rushing offense leaguewide in all but one season. That includes rating in the top five on nine occasions. The Broncos were eighth in the NFL in rushing offense in 2006, their lowest finish since 2001.

Last week, the Broncos dealt starting tailback Tatum Bell to the Detroit Lions as part of a trade package to acquire cornerback Dre' Bly. Even before the trade, however, Denver was seeking to upgrade at tailback with a veteran back.

When Henry became available, he moved to the top of Shanahan's wish list.

Within hours of his release, Henry, 28, flew to Denver and visited with Broncos officials over the weekend, while agent Hadley Engelhard negotiated a deal. Henry also drew considerable interest from the Oakland Raiders, who hoped to bring him in for a visit this week, along with Green Bay and both of the New York franchises.

The Broncos also met over the weekend with unrestricted free agent Ahman Green, the former Packers star who signed a four-year contract with the Houston Texans on Sunday night. But it was clear Henry was the back they targeted.

When he remained in Denver on Sunday night, rather than travel to Oakland, it was clear the momentum was headed toward an agreement.

Ironically, the agreement with Denver came on the same day that Henry was to have collected the $8.3 million roster bonus from the Titans.

But the Titans apprised Henry and Engelhard late last week that they would not pay the prohibitive roster bonus. The two sides had been negotiating for weeks to rework Henry's contract but were unable to reach an agreement that would have accommodated the needs of all parties.

Henry, who resurrected his career in 2006 by winning the starting tailback job early in the season and then posting his third 1,000-yard rushing year, had been prepared for the possibility of his release.

He carried 270 times for 1,211 yards and seven touchdowns in 2006, and notched six 100-yard outings. The former University of Tennessee standout spent the first four years of his career with the Buffalo Bills before being traded to the Titans in 2005.

In 78 games, including 62 starts, Henry has carried 1,321 times for 5,395 yards and 34 touchdowns. He also has 134 receptions for 886 yards and two scores. In addition to his 1,000-yard season in 2006, Henry ran for over 1,000 yards in two of his four seasons with the Bills.

Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.