The tight end offered his thoughts behind the jersey after Thursday’s session of organized team activities in Foxborough.
“I was never really tied to 86,” Henry told reporters via video conference. “Honestly, I’m not a guy that really — I’ve never really been attached to a number. Honestly, just want to go out there and play. But 85, I saw it. I mean, obviously I played with one of the great 85s to ever play the game and one of the best tight ends to play the game in Antonio Gates.”
Now 26, Henry spent the initial three years of his NFL tenure in the same room as Gates, who officially retired one January ago with a franchise-record 955 receptions for 11,841 yards and a league-record 116 touchdowns at the position.
Thrice a first-team All-Pro and twice a second-team All-Pro, the former Kent State power forward’s final season came in Henry’s 2018 absence due to a torn ACL. By then, Gates stood with eight Pro Bowls in addition to spots on the NFL 2000s All-Decade roster and Chargers 50th anniversary roster.
“Maybe it’s a little slight of honoring him,” said Henry, “and hopefully I can do the number right for him.”
Henry had remained one digit above Gates since landing in the second round of the 2016 NFL draft. The Little Rock native previously donned No. 82 at Pulaski Academy and No. 84 at the University of Arkansas, where he won the John Mackey Award as a unanimous junior All-American.
Through his 55 games and 49 starts since then, Henry has caught 196 passes for 2,322 yards and 21 touchdowns. He agreed to terms with the Patriots on three-year, $37.5 million contract as free agency opened in March.
“I have not heard from him since he’s seen me in 85, but I talked to him after I did sign here,” Henry added of Gates.