Ever since cornerback Chris Harris, Jr. signed with the Denver Broncos as an undrafted rookie free agent out of the University of Kansas, he has been fighting hard for recognition. Harris has since risen to Pro Bowl levels off the back of his unique ability to play the slot cornerback position better than his contemporaries while helping the Broncos win a Super Bowl.
This past offseason provided a totally different matchup for the defender as Harris had to face his boss, Broncos GM John Elway. A brief standoff saw the 30-year-old get more than $3 million added to the final year of his deal but he did not get the shiny new multi-year contract he desired.
The failure to find middle ground on a suitable contract has seen Harris playing out what amounts to a lame-duck season in the Mile High City. What’s now clear is that it’s adversely affected the cornerback’s ability to get his physical and mental mindset on the same page.
“I mean, this year has already been hard enough to play, [a tough] football season,” admitted Harris this week. “I haven’t really had a clear mind really all year to play football.”
Learning the defensive scheme of Vic Fangio has added another difficult dynamic for Harris to adjust to, but he hasn’t been hiding from the new set of challenges this season.
“I just had to fight through it, had to persevere through it, and then just having a new role – not playing the position that I specialize in. Just the whole year, everything’s been different,” Harris conceded.
What happens next for the Broncos and Drew Lock? Don't miss out on any news and analysis! Take a second and sign up for our free newsletter and get breaking Broncos news delivered to your inbox daily!
Fangio has also struggled with his own adjustments that have seen the 61-year-old first-year head coach tinker frequently trying to find a viable cornerback solution opposite Harris. Options like Duke Dawson, Isaac Yiadom and Davontae Harris have all flamed out and entered Fangio’s doghouse at various points throughout the season.
Harris, Jr. has found all the increased expectations and pressure to perform weighing heavily on him, as the Broncos' losses combined with his own problems conspired to blight the season.
“Trust me. They definitely dig in to me. Every year, I always have about four or five plays that I want back every year," Harris said on Christmas Eve. "That’s just how it is — same thing with games too. There are a couple games that [I] always want back too."
There has been a growing feeling within Broncos Country that Harris has started to fall off the cornerback cliff as he enters his thirties. With Elway now likely to go younger and cheaper in his rebuild, No. 25 is almost certainly done with the Broncos. True to his upbeat nature, though, the veteran was keen to stress the positives this week.
“I’m just so thankful for the Broncos," Harris said. "I had a great nine years here. Whatever happens, happens, but I’m just focused on finishing the year strong and doing whatever I can do to go into the game with a clear mind and play the best I can."
The underdog attitude has served Harris well so far and maybe a return to his natural slot position would see him bounce back in new surroundings. After all, proving the doubters wrong led to him forming the famed “No Fly Zone” that brought him a championship ring.