Henson gets $3.5M guaranteed

The Houston Texans have traded the rights to quarterback Drew Henson to the Dallas Cowboys for a third-round draft choice in the 2005 NFL draft, ESPN.com has learned.

Henson and the Cowboys agreed on an eight-year contract that will void to four years with modest playing time. In all eight years of the deal, the former New York Yankees third baseman will make a guaranteed minimum salary. In 2004, Henson's salary will be $238,000.

Henson, however, is guaranteed at least $3.5 million over the next four years through a roster bonus that will trigger after any season in which he meets the predetermined playing time level. The Dallas Morning News reports that Henson will receive that bonus and void the last four years of the deal if he plays just 15 percent of the team's snaps in 2004. Henson's deal also has a $1 million escalator clause. The paper reports that clause will be triggered if Henson plays 70 percent of the team's snaps in any of his first three seasons.

There are no conditions that will elevate the draft pick to a higher round based on Henson's performance.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones acknowledged earlier this week that his franchise remained "intrigued" by Henson. Certainly the addition of Henson, which will become official with just a few pen strokes, will dictate plenty of debate about the members of Dallas' current quarterback corps, and about the long-term future of incumbent starter Quincy Carter.

Carter started all 16 games in 2003 and led the Cowboys to a 10-6 mark and a wild-card playoff berth. But as has been the case throughout his career, Carter suffered stretches of inconsistency. Bringing in Henson could also eventually mean the end in Dallas for Chad Hutchinson, who is slated to play in NFL Europe this spring.

Ironically, two-year veteran Hutchinson, like Henson, left college early to pursue a career in baseball. He abandoned his baseball dream after four seasons in the St. Louis Cardinals organization and the former pitcher signed with the Cowboys in 2002.

Henson, 24, has not played a competitive snap of football since starting eight games for the Wolverines in 2000. He completed 61.6 percent of his attempts for 2,146 yards that season, with 18 touchdown passes and just four interceptions. For his career in Ann Arbor, he completed 214 of 374 passes for 2,946 yards, with 24 touchdown passes and seven interceptions.

But the strong-armed Henson, who in 2001 signed a six-year, $17 million baseball deal with the New York Yankees, started just eight times in his 27 appearances. He took 441 snaps, roughly 270 of them in junior season in 2000, so there is not a large body of work with which to evaluate him.

At various times in the process, there were as many as five or six teams viably interested in acquiring Henson via trade but, in recent days, the number of serious suitors settled in at about three.

There was little doubt, given that he walked away from a guaranteed $12 million remaining on the final three years of his baseball contract, that Henson became serious about his future in football in recent months. He had been working out in Bradenton, Fla., where IMG operates its own complex, with longtime NFL quarterbacks coach Larry Kennan. Last month, he auditioned in front of representatives from 21 teams, throwing about 75 passes at the Texans practice facility.

In a shrewd move, the Texans secured Henson's rights by investing a sixth-round pick on him in the 2003 draft. The move paid off for general manager Charley Casserly, since he was able to turn that sixth-round pick into a third-rounder, albeit two years later.

Casserly had maintained throughout that Henson was at least the equal of the quarterback prospects in this year's draft and was confident he would find a trade partner. From the day the Texans chose Henson, they publicly stated they intended to trade him.

If the Texans hadn't signed Henson by noon April 23, the day before the '04 draft, he would have gone back into the player pool, and could have been chosen by another team. But the upside to reaching a deal before the 2004 draft was that Henson could essentially sign with the franchise of his choice.

Information from ESPN.com senior writers Len Pasquarelli and John Clayton was used in this report.