Hunter Henry is poised to be the belle of the ball at the tight end position when free agency officially opens up in lockstep with the new league year on March 17. The 26-year-old is coming off another strong season and will likely be the main target of teams looking to upgrade at that position. While other clubs may have Henry circled on their wish list, the Los Angeles Chargers will not go quietly into the night and simply let their young pass-catching weapon go. They'll be competitive if he does hit the open market or they could elect to go down the route they did a year ago and again place the franchise tag on him.
"We're just keeping all of the options open right now," Chargers GM Tom Telesco told reporters Thursday when asked about potentially placing the tag on Henry, via NFL.com. "This year, with where the cap is, it makes it more difficult than in other years. But, I think you have to keep all of the doors open at this point."
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Henry earned $10.6 million while playing on the tag in 2020 and that number will only increase if the Chargers elect to deploy it a second time. According to Over the Cap's projections, L.A. will have just over $23 million in effective cap space, which would be enough to place a competitive offer for Henry on the open market. That said, hitting him with the tag would not only ensure that other teams can't snatch him away but it'd also extend the team's exclusive negotiating window to hammer out a long-term deal.
Henry has spent his entire pro career with the Chargers after being a second-round pick back in 2016. From there, he's developed into one of the better players at the position when healthy.
"Well, he falls under the category of things we've done right," Telesco said. "You draft a player, he develops and turns into a really, really high-level tight end for us -- and a big part of this football team. Our philosophy has been to draft, develop and re-sign. Now, can you do that with every single player? You can't. Not in a salary cap era, and certainly not in an era where we are right now where it's lowered. That doesn't change how we feel about him. We know what he means to the football team. We'll just kind of see where our options are. He's a big part of the football team. I love how he plays the game. He fits what we do on the field and off of the field. He's a high-level player."
Back in mid-February, Henry didn't rule out a return to Chargers in some capacity, noting his strong relationship with Justin Herbert. If he were to depart the organization, however, finding a destination with strong quarterback play is going to be one of his main focuses.