Skip to main content

Third Time's a Charm? Shelby Harris' Fascinating Career Comes Full Circle Joining Seahawks

Back in 2016, after Seattle and several other teams passed on the opportunity to sign Harris following workouts, the player nearly gave up the sport. Six years later, following a successful tenure in Denver, he's eager to get started in the Pacific Northwest.

RENTON, WA - Nearing the tail end of his third season in the NFL and still without a team as the schedule winded down, Shelby Harris began to question whether or not he was cut out for playing professional football.

Though Harris remained steadfast in his belief he could play at a high level in the league if given the right opportunity, he had worked out for at least eight teams since being waived by the Jets in August without any takers. He had been cut six times since being drafted by the Raiders in the seventh round in 2014. After the Chargers opted not to sign him with only a few weeks left to play, he had one foot out the door ready to walk away from the game entirely.

But while Harris' confidence had been shaken by his inability to land with a team, his wife Stephanie hadn't lost hope. When he called to inform her that he was done playing, she urged him to stick with it, believing better days lied ahead.

In the immediate aftermath of that phone conversation, Harris didn't find a landing spot or play a single snap that season, but his persistence finally paid off in January when the Broncos signed him to a reserve/future deal. Six years later, following five successful seasons in the Mile High City, he's excited to embark on the next step of his career after being traded to the Seahawks as part of the blockbuster Russell Wilson deal last month.

With that said, Harris made sure to remind general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll that Seattle could have signed him several years earlier and they wouldn't have had to trade their star quarterback to acquire him.

"It was definitely was a tough road, a lot of learning lessons. And it's funny, because I was in Seattle for a workout. That was my third year, and they didn't sign me. And so now here we are, you know, we could have just avoided all this if they signed me earlier," Harris joked in his introductory press conference. "But you know, I always just say it's perseverance, just not giving up."

Now 30 years old and long removed from that frustrating time where he nearly hung up his cleats, Harris has quietly been one of the most productive interior defensive linemen in the league for a half decade. Thriving in coach Vic Fangio's 3-4 scheme over the past three seasons, per Pro Football Focus, he has registered 16.0 sacks and 82 quarterback pressures since 2019. He's also swatted away 16 passes at the line of scrimmage and forced three fumbles during that span.

In addition, Harris has been a productive stopping the run lining up in multiple alignments along the defensive line, seeing significant playing time as a 1-tech nose tackle, 3-tech defensive tackle, and 4-tech base defensive end. Since 2017, his first year in Denver, he's only had one season where he finished with lower than a 69.7 grade from Pro Football Focus as a run defender.

Set to join the Seahawks six years after the team passed up on the chance to sign him, Harris will benefit from playing in a similar 3-4 scheme under new defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt, who coached with Fangio for three years with the Bears. 

"This is my defense when you really think about it. This is the defense I've ran the last three, four years and I'm very comfortable in it. I pretty much knows the ins and outs of it," Harris remarked. "I'm just excited to get the work with Coach Hurtt, I've heard so much about him. Teddy Bridgewater was the first one to text me he was like, 'You're gonna love Coach Hurtt. He's the man.' But it's a different scheme. If you can play this scheme, you can definitely play other schemes."

While the two systems won't necessarily be identical and he hasn't played for Hurtt or associate head coach Sean Desai in the past, Harris expects to see a lot of carryover from Fangio's scheme given their respective coaching backgrounds. Favoring 3-4 fronts over 4-3 fronts when it comes to defending the run, he believes the new defense will be an excellent changeup to help combat the wide zone-heavy opponents the Seahawks face in the NFC West.

Sounding almost like an insurance salesman rather than an NFL defensive lineman, Harris ecstatically vouched for the defense, promising teammates, specifically defensive linemen Poona Ford and Quinton Jefferson, as well as fans and media members would learn to embrace the scheme.

"This defense, you guys will love it," Harris smiled. "I swear you guys will see it's really a mixture of rush and coverage working together. You're gonna get a lot of zone out of it, but once everybody gets it, it's gonna be hard to stop."

"The defense is legit man and I just can't wait for y'all to see it."

Given the departure of Wilson and linebacker Bobby Wagner, Seattle may not stand out as a desired destination for players on other teams the way it once did. Even as they state publicly that the franchise isn't entering rebuild mode, Schneider and Carroll may find it to be much tougher to sell free agents on the idea of relocating to the Pacific Northwest with their two biggest stars no longer in the picture.

From his own perspective, with Harris admitting he will now have to spend time away from his four children to join the Seahawks, it would be understandable if he wasn't necessarily enthralled by the trade.

But Harris' excitement about playing in Seattle couldn't have come across as more genuine in his introduction to local media and that shouldn't be a surprise considering his interest in playing for the team in the past. Along with his workout back in September 2016, he also met with the team on a free agent visit two years ago before ultimately choosing to re-sign with Denver, so the interest has been mutual for some time.

Grateful to be able to continue making a living playing the sport he loves and suit up for a franchise he has long revered, Harris can't wait to get rolling later this month. As the Seahawks transition into a new era with a new scheme in tow and expectations remaining high, he's ready to take on a leadership role and do whatever it takes to help his new team win football games.

"I think it's just kind of like my career going full circle. When I came up here for that workout, I really wanted to be here because you only hear great things about Seattle. You want to be part of that and you want to build on that culture. So when you get traded back, it's kind of like 'Oh, okay. This is kind of like it is meant to be.' It kind of feels like that."