SUNDAY, 10:20am: Former NFL agent Joel Corry weighed in this morning with a series of tweets on the Harris deal. Corry noted that Harris’ extension is, for all practical purposes, a three-year, $25MM pact, with two separate option years in 2018 and 2019 that require $1.1MM and $1MM payments to be exercised. Most importantly for Broncos fans, Corry writes that, assuming a 2015 salary cap of about $142MM, Denver will have approximately $31MM of cap space, which is more than enough room to lock up Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas long-term. Corry also adds to the narrative that GM John Elway and his staff have been consistently able to secure quality players with below-market deals, writing that Harris should have been able to get a more lucrative offer from the Broncos as free agency approached.
FRIDAY, 5:41pm: The Broncos and cornerback Chris Harris have reached an agreement on a five-year, $42.5MM extension, reports Mike Klis of the Denver Post. Harris was set to enter unrestricted free agency at season’s end, but he’ll now remain in Denver through the 2019 season.
Per the terms of the new deal, Harris will receive $24MM in guarantees, with $10MM of that coming in the form of a signing bonus. As usual, we’ll have to wait until we see the full details of the contract to see how much cash is fully guaranteed — if a portion is guaranteed for injury only, for example, then Harris’ extension might look less impressive. He’ll be paid $18MM over the first two years of the contract, the same amount that Broncos offseason addition (and fellow CB) Aqib Talib will receive during the first two years of his pact. According to Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports (Twitter link), the maximum value of the contract is $49MM, which indicates the deal likely includes incentives
“Chris is a young, ascending player who has consistently performed at a high level during his first four years in the NFL,” said general manager John Elway. “He joined the Broncos as a college free agent and has worked tirelessly to become one of the league’s best at his position. It’s a priority for us to develop and reward our own players as we continue assembling the best possible team. Whether it’s on the field or in the community, we are proud to have Chris representing the Broncos for many years to come.”
While we heard on November 8 that the Broncos and Harris had engaged in contract negotiations, a report just 11 days later indicated that the talks had stalled. Per Klis, it seemed that the possibility of an extension was at times “on life support,” but the framework for a new deal rounded into form when Elway began taking the lead in discussions with Harris’ agent, Fred Lyles. Harris, 25, is earning $2.187MM this season, after being tendered at the second-round level as a restricted free agent over the offseason.
Harris has been with the Broncos since 2011, when he joined the club as an undrafted free agent out of Kansas. He became a full-time starter the following season, and has since started 46 contests over the course of his career, registering 46 passes defensed and 10 interceptions. He rates extremely well per advanced metrics, grading as the No. 1 overall corner in the NFL per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
According to Klis, one sticking point in negotiations was whether Harris should be paid like a No. 1 or a No. 2 corner. In the end, it appears as though he was compensated as a top-flight defensive back, although his contract doesn’t quite compare to the deals recently signed by Patrick Peterson, Richard Sherman, and Joe Haden. At $8.5MM, Harris’ annual average value lags behind all three of the defensive backs listed — in fact, his AAV ranks just 12th among corners, while his total value is eighth. However, if the reported $24MM figure is correct, his guarantee would be second amongst corners, trailing only Brandon Carr.
With Harris now locked up, the Broncos will presumably turn their attention to securing extensions for Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas, each of whom will be an unrestricted free agent after the season. While we heard in October that the club didn’t anticipate signing either one to a new deal during the season, it’s possible that could change now that the Harris pact has been finalized. For his part, Demaryius Thomas recently indicated that he was open to taking a “hometown discount” to remain in Denver.
Harris’ contract should help clarify the upcoming free agent cornerback market, which, while not overly impressive, does include one young CB — the Ravens’ Jimmy Smith — and another impressive veteran, Brandon Flowers of the Chargers. At age 29, Flowers probably won’t receive a deal resembling that of Harris, but Smith could point to the Broncos’ willingness to hand Harris a hefty sum during his negotiations with Baltimore. Harris was the only cornerback listed on the inaugural edition of our Free Agent Power Rankings, where he placed fifth overall.
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