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Thursday, April 17, 2003
Updated: February 10, 7:04 PM ET
 
NFL not in Henson's plans
By Len Pasquarelli
ESPN.com

Sometime in the next few weeks, after Carson Palmer has signed his initial NFL contract and banked a fat signing bonus check, the Southern California quarterback will report for the rookie orientation and pull on his first set of Cincinnati Bengals stripes.

Drew Henson
Drew Henson played three years at Michigan before leaving to play professional baseball.
Ironic because the most intriguing quarterback prospect in the 2003 lottery already has a set of stripes, New York Yankees pinstripes that is, and plans to be wearing them for a long time.

Drew Henson, the former University of Michigan quarterback who in 2001 abandoned a promising football career to sign a six-year, $17 million deal with the Yankees, is eligible for the '03 draft. Several teams have hinted that they might invest a late-round pick on Henson, currently playing third base for the Triple-A Columbus Clippers, just to gain his NFL rights.

But both Henson and his representatives from IMG strongly suggested this week teams need not waste their time or even a seventh-round selection.

"I guess that, until I'm playing third base in Yankees Stadium and in the lineup every day, this is always going to be an issue," Henson said. "But the truth is, football just isn't in my plans, and the questions are starting to get a little old. I'm not a quitter. I'm following through with baseball. This is what I want to be doing. This is my focus."

Given his struggles to hit the curveball during his career, some teams felt Henson, 23, might trade in his baseball gear, and perhaps be happier trying to hit a streaking wide receiver in stride. At 6-feet-5 and 222 pounds, he has prototype pocket stature and, had he remained with the Wolverines almost certainly would have already been a first-round choice by now.

In 128 games at Columbus last season, he hit just .240, with 18 home runs and 65 RBIs, and struck out 151 times in 471 plate appearances. Through a Wednesday loss, Henson has played 12 games this season for the Clippers. He is right at the dreaded "Mendoza Line," hitting .200, with nine hits in 45 at-bats, including three doubles, one home run and four RBIs. He has struck out 13 times.

When they signed him, New York officials mentally targeted 2003 as the year they felt he would take over the Yankees' third base job, but clearly that has not been the case. No one in the organization is going to project now when Henson might advance full-time to the major league level.

"But he's sticking with baseball," said agent Tom Condon. "And that's it."

Condon said he has not been contacted in recent months by NFL teams inquiring about Henson and his plans for the future. He added that Henson has not mentioned any desire to resume his football career.

I guess that, until I'm playing third base in Yankees Stadium and in the lineup every day, this is always going to be an issue. But the truth is, football just isn't in my plans, and the questions are starting to get a little old. I'm not a quitter. I'm following through with baseball. This is what I want to be doing. This is my focus.
Drew Henson, Yankees prospect and former Michigan quarterback

The scenario could change in a year, when Henson becomes a totally free agent according to NFL rules, and will be able to sign with any team and not be subjected to the draft. It is similar to what Dallas Cowboys quarterback Chad Hutchinson experienced after a four-year fling as a pitcher in the St. Louis Cardinals system. Hutchinson signed with the Cowboys for last season and received a $3.1 million signing bonus.

Most scouts surveyed in the past week assess that Henson is a better prospect than Hutchinson. They add that it is difficult to evaluate him since he has spent the two-plus years away from the gridiron. But officials from two teams conceded they have had internal discussions about taking him with a late-round choice in this draft.

Fitting a contract into a team's rookie pool, though, is a tricky maneuver, acknowledged Ken Kremer, another of Henson's agents. And that is why the odds have shifted against Henson being chosen this year. Any team that selected Henson in this draft would have until next year's lottery to sign him to a contract.

"He's got three years left on his (Yankees) contract after this season," said Kremer, "and essentially, that is guaranteed money. So a team that drafted him would have to make it worth his while financially to walk away from that. With the constraints of the rookie pool, that would be tough to do.

"But the more important thing is that he really wants to make it work in baseball. His goal is to be the Yankees' third baseman and that's always uppermost in his mind."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.