Chris Harris, Jr. has 'Pretty Much' Closed the Door on a Potential Return to Broncos
For the last year, tensions have existed between four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Chris Harris, Jr. and the Denver Broncos' front office. Despite Harris calling GM John Elway his "dawg" back in January, there is a palpable rift between them.
That rift turned into a gulf when Elway consummated a trade that brought CB A.J. Bouye and his $13 million salary to the Broncos one week ago. Harris already shared his initial gut reaction to the Bouye trade — importuning the Kansas City Chiefs on social media to "call my people" — and now, it appears Harris is officially ready to move on to greener pastures.
"I think it's pretty much that door has been closed," Harris said via The Athletic's Nicki Jhabvala. "So it's just trying to move on to the next situation that's best for me and trying to figure out who's excited to have me in the building and have me a part of the team."
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Harris had joined NFL Network's 'Total Access' when he let the remark slip. Now, Harris is living in a world where the Broncos have franchise-tagged free-agent safety Justin Simmons, which will guarantee him $11.545M in 2020, if no multi-year deal is agreed upon with before the season.
Taking Bouye's $13M, plus Simmons' $11.5, while throwing in Kareem Jackson's $11M salary and Bryce Callahan's $7M salary, the Broncos are already on the hook for $42.5M just in their secondary alone. Harris is purportedly seeking a top-of-the-market contract with a starting point at $14M per year.
There's a chance he'll find it on the open market, but it won't come from Denver. No, Harris will be playing elsewhere in 2020 and the sad truth is, that's not what the Broncos wanted to see happen.
The Broncos have bent over backward to show good faith toward Harris since last summer, when the team sweetened Harris' 2019 salary by more than $3M, simply because he was unwilling to make less per year than the recently-signed Jackson and was thus holding out of OTAs. Elway didn't have to acquiesce to that demand, and there's almost no NFL precedent for a team to give a player an in-season raise without agreeing to additional years on the term. But Elway pulled the trigger.
Then, with the trade deadline approaching last fall, Elway offered Harris a two-year deal worth $26M, half of which was guaranteed. Harris declined, even though the deal would have paid him $13M APY, which would have represented a serious raise at 30 years old.
And now, that ship has sailed. It's hard to fault the Broncos for not throwing the checkbook at Harris and telling him to name his price. Not only is he on the wrong side of 30, he's coming off arguably the worst season of his stalwart career.
There are a lot of reasons for Harris' regression in 2019, and not all of them are his fault. But enough of them can be laid at his feet. Simply put, he played his worst ball in the most critical moments and it really cost the Broncos.
The time has come to bid adieu to Harris and recognize his contributions to Broncos canon. A former undrafted free agent, Harris was mentored by Hall-of-Famer Champ Bailey, before being teamed up with former college teammate Aqib Talib to forge one of the best secondaries of all-time in the No Fly Zone. It all culminated in a Super Bowl 50 championship.
One day, Harris will return to the Broncos to be enshrined in the team's Ring of Fame and when he does, hopefully, fans welcome him with open arms. He's been a star and has worked for each and every opportunity he's ever been given, contributing to one of the most successful periods in franchise history.
Meanwhile, despite the dollar figure the Broncos have tied up in the secondary, the team can't afford to be done adding to the secondary. The team has two starting-caliber corners in Bouye and Callahan, and its starting safety duo locked in with Simmons and Jackson.
But the Broncos need to add a third starting-caliber corner and a No. 3 safety, with Will Parks poised to hit free agency. That third corner could end up being De'Vante Bausby, who is optimistic that a deal with Denver could get done soon, or it could be an outside signing — and maybe one with past ties to Vic Fangio like Prince Amukamara.
One thing's certain; the Broncos secondary is going to look very different next year without Harris. Bouye is unlikely to be the only new face in the defensive backfield, whether that newcomer arrives via free agency or April's draft.