Chris Harris Jr has so far stayed away from the Broncos’ OTAs, but his contract situation is one of the biggest talking points.
It would have been inconceivable that the star cornerback could play for another team in the NFL, but it becomes more of a possibility as each day passes.
We know his side wants $15 million a year, which would make Harris one of the highest-paid corners in the league, but we also know that general manager John Elway is notoriously tight when it comes to paying players market value.
That talks are underway, even if they are in their infancy, is at least a positive step in the right direction.
The Broncos didn’t take a cornerback in the 2019 NFL Draft last month after landing Bryce Callahan and Kareem Jackson in free agency, although the latter has been playing more safety in Vic Fangio’s defense.
If Harris walks, the Broncos will have a massive hole in their secondary following the departures of Bradley Roby (Houston) and Tramaine Brock (Arizona).
Yes, Callahan is also an excellent slot corner, but it means the Broncos will have to hope Isaac Yiadom can step up in his second year or one of the undrafted rookies emerges as a potential starter or third corner, or the plan to move Jackson around will be stifled.
NFL Network’s James Palmer reported Friday that the Broncos could be looking at a short-term extension for Harris, which could see his salary rise close to his demands.
That shouldn’t come as a surprise, given what we know about contracts offered to corners in their 30s.
The Broncos signed Jackson, aged 31, to a $33 million deal over three years this offseason, but such deals are rare.
Josh Norman, whose $75m five-year contract with Washington gives him an average of $15m a year, got his deal in 2016.
Miami signed Xavien Howard to a five-year extension earlier this month worth $75m with a $15.05m a year average, with $27.18 million fully guaranteed at signing and $46 million in total guarantees, according to Pro Football Talk, but Howard is 25.
The issue for Harris, who turns 30 in June, is that teams don’t often offer big contracts to aging corners, and not many organizations will add a premium for performing above a previous contract’s value.
A two- or three-year extension in 2019, would keep Harris under contract through 2021 or 2022. If the incentives can top up the base salary, which seems the likeliest outcome, it could work for both parties.
Harris has talked of retiring a Bronco, but that will depend on whether he takes a short-term deal, and how he performs in that period. Even then, it’s not a given.
Yiadom might not be the future of the Broncos’ secondary, but the front office will look to get younger at the position in 2020 or 2021.
Widely regarded as one of the smartest players on and off the field, the Broncos cannot afford to lose another leader, especially one that can mentor the youngsters who one day could take his place.
That concept shouldn’t be too alien to Harris, who was mentored by Champ Bailey before the Broncos released the Hall of Famer in 2014 at the age of 35 after 10 seasons in Denver.
Keeping Harris on the roster for at least two more seasons is imperative for the Broncos to bounce back from back-to-back losing seasons.