The Denver Broncos are one of the most storied franchises in the NFL. Their fan base is huge in every city across the country, and in a few stadiums the Broncos have more fans in the stands than the home team they are playing against.
Denver didn’t become a storied franchise overnight, and didn’t really see its best days until a quarterback from Stanford named John Elway showed up. Elway had success on the field, and has enjoyed great success off of it as well in the front office of the team. There is a strong argument that the reason Peyton Manning chose to sign here in 2012 was because of John Elway. However in 2019 John Elway is on the cusp of making the biggest mistake in his front office career; not re-signing Chris Harris Jr. to a long term, high dollar contract.
There are a couple reasons this would be a terrible mistake for John Elway. The first is Chris Harris Jr. has been one of the premier cornerbacks in the NFL for the last 4-6 years. He is one of the few cornerbacks can lock a receiver down both in the slot, and on the outside. In fact, I would say that it was Chris Harris Jr. that made the “slot corner” position a big deal in the NFL. Whether he has been playing alongside Champ Bailey, Aqib Talib, or any of the starting Bronco cornerbacks the last 8 years Harris Jr. has remained atop the rankings at cornerback year in and year out. Signing here as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Kansas Chris Harris Jr. has found a home here in Denver. A fan favorite, Harris Jr. is known as one of the most approachable and kind players on the Denver Broncos. After saying all these great things about a player that has been in the league since 2011 you would think that his contract would reflect that value, but sadly it doesn’t.
After looking at the way Harris Jr.’s contract was designed, and comparing it to other cornerbacks in the NFL who have never been rated as highly as Harris Jr. you can clearly see why he is demanding a new contract worth a lot of money. Harris Jr. joined the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2011, and he received a $2,000 thousand dollar signing bonus with no guarantee to make the team. Upon making the team his total earnings in his first year playing in the NFL was $377,000 thousand dollars. In 2012 his total earnings were $465,000 dollars with no signing bonus, and the next year he made $555,000 thousand dollars with again no signing bonus. In 2014 Harris Jr. signed a $42.5 million dollar contract that was extremely team friendly. Although the contract included a $10 million dollar signing bonus, it only had a $10.9 million dollar guarantee on it. The yearly breakdown for this contract for a player with Harris Jr.’s ability should astound you. In 2014, which was the year he received his signing bonus Harris Jr. made just over $12.1 million dollars. For the 2015 season, the season the Broncos won the Super Bowl based on the “No Fly Zone” , Harris Jr. made a base salary of $900,000 hundred thousand dollars with a workout bonus of $100,000 thousand dollars for a total of $1 million dollars. When I read that I almost had to do a double-take. During the 2015 season there is absolutely no argument that Chris Harris Jr. was one of the top 5 cornerbacks in the NFL, yet he was paid less than most rookies. 2016 finally saw Harris Jr. begin to make multiple millions per year as his total earnings were $7 million dollars with a base salary of $6.9 million dollars, and a workout bonus of $100,000 thousand dollars. in 2017 Harris Jr. made $8.6 million dollars with a base salary of $7.4 dollars, an option bonus of $1.1 million dollars, and a workout bonus of $100,000 thousand dollars. Finally, last year Harris Jr. made slightly over $9 million dollars with a base salary again of $7.4 million, an option bonus of $1 million dollars, a $522,948 thousand dollar incentive bonus, and again a $100,000 thousand dollar workout bonus.
Clearly Chris Harris Jr. is one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, but he has yet to be paid what the top cornerbacks in the NFL are paid. Currently Josh Norman of the Washington Redskins is the highest paid cornerback in the league with a contract of $75 million dollars that breaks down into a signing bonus of $15 million dollars, a yearly salary worth $15 million dollars, and a $36.5 million dollar guarantee on the contract. Harris Jr. is asking for $15 million dollars per year, and he should get it, or something close to it.
The other big reason that re-signing him to a big money deal is important is the precedent that it sets. Harris Jr. is a player that Denver signed out of college, and has seen progress into one of the best players at his position in the NFL. He signed a team friendly contract that helped give us the salary cap space to sign players like Peyton Manning, and DeMarcus Ware. Should the Broncos choose to not re-sign him it could make other soon to be veterans less likely to sign a team friendly deal because they know that in the end the Broncos are not going to pay them what they are worth. Last years draft class had multiple players that will play huge roles for this team for years to come, and should Elway want to be able to have the flexibility to sign those players to team friendly deals he must show the world that he will reward you if you essentially “take one for the team”.
Chris Harris Jr. has been a model player, and a leader on this team for the last 5 years. He has provided the Broncos secondary with leadership, and poise, while shutting down some of the NFL’s best receivers. John Elway will not only lose a great player if he doesn’t re-sign him, he will be less likely to convince other players to take team friendly deals in the future that could help bring in talent we need for another Super Bowl run. Chris Harris Jr. is not a very big man, but losing him would be a giant mistake.