Kevin Byard, a two-time All-Pro safety, practiced with the Tennessee Titans on Tuesday and seemed to have not skipped a beat, despite being away after being requested to take a pay cut earlier this offseason. Byard, the team’s longest-tenured defender, did not speak to reporters on the opening day of the team’s mandatory minicamp, so his thoughts on the request remain unknown.
Derrick Henry, the three-time Pro Bowl running back who was drafted 19 picks ahead of Byard in 2016, also joined the Titans’ offseason program earlier than usual. Although the run plays may not have changed much for him, the new offensive coordinator, Tim Kelly, has installed a completely new offense, and Henry admitted that learning everything and getting used to the terminology has been a challenge.
Earlier this offseason, there was speculation that the new general manager, Ran Carthon, might trade Byard, Henry, or both, after confirming that they had asked Byard, the first pick of the third round in 2016, to take a pay cut. Byard had stayed away from the voluntary portion of the Titans’ offseason program, working out on his own. However, both Titans coach, Mike Vrabel, and defensive coordinator, Shane Bowen, made it clear that they expected him to be around when the veterans had to be, and he did not disappoint.
Despite missing the voluntary portion of the Titans’ offseason program, Byard showed no signs of rust and looked just as fit as everyone else on the field. He is a four-time defensive captain, has never missed a game since being drafted out of Middle Tennessee, has started 105 of 114 games played, and led Tennessee in tackles and interceptions each of the past two seasons. Byard also leads all NFL safeties with 27 interceptions since the start of the 2017 season, and his contributions to the team are immeasurable.
Linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair, a free agent signee this offseason, immediately noticed a difference in communication on the field with Byard making sure his teammates were lined up in the right spots. Al-Shaair also noted that Byard’s workout regimen had kept him in excellent shape, and it did not take him long to get back into the groove of things.
Byard agreed to a new extension in July 2019, and he is poised to go into his eighth NFL season second only to quarterback Ryan Tannehill on the team with a $19.6 million salary cap hit. This includes a $3.7 million hit for restructuring, according to Spotrac.com. Henry ranks fourth with a $16.3 million salary cap hit. He ranked second in the NFL last season in rushing for 1,538 yards and had career highs with 33 catches for 398 yards. Despite his impressive performance, Henry has never talked about his contract status and is unlikely to change now.
The Titans are preparing for another promising season, and Byard and Henry are undoubtedly crucial to their success.