Los Angeles Chargers look to retain Hunter Henry, a favorite target of Justin Herbert
The Los Angeles Chargers are doing their due diligence to their free agents, with one player mostly on target: tight end Hunter Henry.
The list of Chargers eligible for the leak is long. But it’s very heavy with Henry and defensive end Melvin Ingram II, two impact players at different stages of their careers.
Henry, 26, has the biggest advantage after reaching career highs in various categories last year.
Ingram, who turns 32 in April, has been productive in spurts, but he hasn’t become the force many expected with blocking plans aimed at his Pro Bowl teammate Joey Bosa.
Then Ingram, also a pro Bowler, missed nine games with injuries and failed to record a sack in 2020 after reworking his deal for a $ 14 million guarantee.
Henry was retained with the franchise tag for $ 10.6 million and he produced 60 catches for 613 yards and four touchdowns. It was a solid performance and facilitated the narrative that Henry, who missed the 2018 season with a knee injury, couldn’t stay in shape. He missed two games in 20, but that was for COVID-19.
Henry has a proven track record and the Chargers will likely reward him. Especially after he quickly established himself as one of young quarterback Justin Herbert’s favorite receivers with a record 93 targets.
Paying Henry makes sense with Herbert being on his rookie contract. This presents a window of opportunity for the Chargers to shine – and expand their fan base – without paying Herbert, the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, north of $ 20 million in annual compensation.
So how many millions will Hunter cost the Bolts? He was the third highest paid tight end last year and he’s not pushing the pay scale.
A good place to start for the Chargers and Henry is the deal signed by Cleveland Browns tight end Austin Hooper. Last March, they reached a four-year, $ 42 million deal with $ 23 million in guarantees.
It is doubtful that Henry will surpass the first two employees in his post. George Kittle of the San Francisco 49ers (five, $ 75 million) and Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs (four, $ 57.25 million) are the leaders.
If the Chargers keep Henry, it gives Herbert reliable hands at three points of pass catching. Pro Bowl wide receiver Keenan Allen and versatile running back Austin Ekeler round out Henry, as he does them.
Ditching Henry’s considerable talents and familiarity with Herbert after 60 career-high takes just doesn’t make sense. LA, at a minimum, could label Henry again and negotiate that elusive long-term deal.
What isn’t hard to grasp is the potential payoff for Henry and Herbert to develop their games together. Their connection was evident last year, with Henry often providing a safety net for Herbert when the parts were out of script.
The Chargers would be wise to solidify this partnership, even if they were to forgo the market rate for Henry.
With Herbert’s below-market paycheck for the next three seasons, the pair could pay dividends at a collective price that would bring value and firepower to the Chargers.