Henson: Hot or Not?

IRVING, TX - Why didn't Cowboys QB prospect Drew Henson get any substantial playing time at the conclusion of the lost season of 2004, when Dallas was going nowhere but 6-10? We believe the reason is vastly different from why Henson played not a snap in 2005, despite a few more "nothing-more-to-lose'' moments.

Let me take you back to the waning moments of '04. Henson made two November appearances in games, swabbing up in a 30-10 loss at Baltimore (in which he was 6-of-6 for 47 yards and a TD pass) and being pulled from a start against Chicago, an eventual 21-7 win in which he was an ineffective 4-of-12 for 31 yards with a pick.

And that was it.

The guy in front of him, Vinny Testaverde, had gone bad as old fruit. The guy behind him, scrappy Tony Romo, was not considered a prospect. Yet Henson was restricted, kept in handcuffs, almost as if he was a baseball pitcher not allowed to exceed a certain pitch count.

Why did it seem that way? Because, we contended then and now, he WAS NOT allowed.

Check out Henson's contract: It called for a $3 million makeable incentive bonus if he played 15 percent of 2004 snaps. Achieving that incentive would have also knocked years off the back end of his seven-year contract. So if Henson played "too much'' that year, the Cowboys not only lost his services sooner, but also lost money that could have potentially (and indeed was) spent elsewhere in preparation for 2005.

We won a few bucks betting with friends that year that Henson would play less than two-and-a-half games. (That'd be about 15 percent of a season.) And yes, Henson was kept under 15 percent of the '04 snaps. That $3 mil stayed in the owner's pocket ("keeping his powder dry,'' as Jerry Jones might say) and hot-prospect Henson's "seven-year eligibility'' remained intact as well.

Now fast-forward to 2005. An entire season goes by with starter Drew Bledsoe NEVER taking a breather. Which means Henson never gets a tryout, never gets experience, never gets a sniff. Not in a pair of blowout wins over Philly and Arizona in October, not in a Dec. 18 blowout loss at Washington and not in the Week 17 "practice-game'' loss to St. Louis.

Why did Drew Henson never appear? Because where he was once a "hot,'' he is now a "not.''

I've been a Henson guy from the start. Giving up a No. 3 pick for a guy who is athletic enough to have been an almost-star with the Yankees, for a guy who at Michigan beat out Tom Brady for the QB job, is an easy roll of the dice. Hearing scouting people, from old friend Larry Lacewell on down, continue to endorse Henson all through 2004 made me a believer, too. And then there is Henson the man, Henson on the social scene. I recall hearing that he once handled himself very well at a party in L.A. during which he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with teammate Keyshawn Johnson while the all fellas flirted with none other than Eva Longoria. And I've bumped into him many times outside of the locker room, hanging out at a trendy Mexican joint in uptown Dallas. He is perfectly unassuming, with no "I-play-for-the-Cowboys'' airs about him. He is 6-4 and 233 and I believe he actually attended classes at Michigan and those guys don't grow on trees. He is, whether Cowboys fans still care to know this or not, a good kid.

But something has gone terribly wrong with Drew Henson. One NFL scout tells me that his confidence was shot when he was pulled from that Thanksgiving game against the Bears. (Granted, if you completely lose it because of one setback, maybe you're not the right guy for the job.) Maybe he was negatively affected, too, when Dallas attempted to alter his delivery. A Cowboys player whispers to me that in a preseason game last summer, Henson was so rattled by the atmosphere that he could barely spit out the play-call, and that one of the team's young running backs had to guide him through it.

And then there is the NFL source very close to Dallas' QB situation who swears some coaches wanted to cut Henson last summer but were vetoed by owner Jones.

Says one Valley Ranch voice: "Romo has a certain 'it' factor, but obviously not enough of one to ever let him play. And Henson, who once had 'it,' has lost it. He hasn't played any real football in a long, long time, and it shows on the practice field.''

Some blame for this must go to the organization. The Cowboys' recent history of handling quarterbacks stinks. That includes Troy Aikman at the end, and it includes the mentoring of and judgments of everyone from Tony Banks to Quincy Carter to Anthony Wright to Clint Stoerner to Chad Hutchinson. And now to Romo and Henson, who have as poor a collective backup-QB resume as any team at any time in NFL history.

Drew Henson is just two years into the NFL, so there is the tendency to think he's got all kinds of time. But he is somehow third on this team's depth chart. It would be suicidal for a contending Cowboys team to tightrope its way through 2006 without an experienced backup to Bledsoe. And in February, Henson turns 26 -- plenty old enough to have taken off the training wheels.

Coach Bill Parcells' answer to why Henson didn't play more in '04? He was afraid he "could lose the player."

Parcells' answer to where Henson is as of Aug. 30 of '05? "I think he's a young developing player. That's where he is right now. Not ready."

Parcells' answer to Henson evaluation questions now? Nobody even bothers asking.

News of Henson working with NFL Europe should not exactly be read as a Cowboys vote of confidence. Now, again, I like the kid's approach. "I'm just excited to be playing football again,'' he told the Dallas Morning News. "I left baseball because I missed playing football games. I see this as a great opportunity.''

Well, good. But once, he competed with Tom Brady and won. Then, he was to compete with Vinny Testaverde and lost. Then he wasn't even allowed to compete with Drew Bledsoe. And now he might compete with somebody for playing time with, like, the Hamburg Sea Devils.

Where Drew Henson was once a "hot'' -- and up to now, that's been his story for his entire life -- he is now, strangely, a "not.''

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