Chris Harris (CB)

AFC Rumors: Gronk, Luck, Bell, Broncos

Rob Gronkowski is still operating on a contract he signed in 2012, slightly before he placed his name among the all-time tight end greats, but is committed to returning for a ninth season regardless. Reports of Patriots negotiations with Gronkowski on a revised 2018 deal emerged months ago, but nothing’s been resolved. That’s led some other executives around the conference to believe the Patriots are still motivated to trade their superstar pass-catcher.

Where’s the restructure of his contract?” one AFC personnel executive said, via Greg Bedard of the Boston Sports Journal (via NESN.com). “Until that’s done, I think he’s still available. I wouldn’t be surprised if (Bill) Belichick is going to test Gronk’s buy-in with the contract.”

The Pats are believed to have shopped Gronk to the Texans, Titans, Lions and 49ers. The 29-year-old All-Pro remains on New England’s roster but without the kind of pay-bump possibility 2017’s incentive package brought. Three of the five execs Bedard spoke with believe the Pats and Gronkowski will reach an agreement to redo his deal, but the fact that it hasn’t happened yet opens the door to rumblings of a trade — one that wouldn’t be out of character for Belichick. Two other AFC execs expect a harder fight from the Patriots, given that Gronk hinted at retirement and skipped OTAs.

Here’s the latest on some other AFC standouts:

  • On the topic of impasses for All-Pros, Le’Veon Bell remains focused on a deal that represents a combination of his abilities on the ground and through the air — a demand that could be up to $17MM AAV. Although the Steelers‘ talks with their star running back resumed, they are still unlikely to produce a long-term deal, Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes. Fittipaldo is the latest to confirm Bell turned down a contract proposal that would have ensured he made $30MM in 2017 and ’18, adding it was a five-year offer. Bell’s entrance to the league as a 2013 second-round pick, and a player who has earned less than 2016 first-rounder Ezekiel Elliott (since Bell has yet to sign his $14.5MM 2018 tender, this is still accurate), is helping drive Bell to take this hardline stance, per Fittipaldo.
  • While this isn’t exactly full confirmation, signs point to Andrew Luck participating in a passing summit with some of his pass-catchers at his alma mater. Colts wide receiver Chester Rogers tweeted he’s off to Stanford, where Luck spends time training during the offseason. Mike Chappell of Fox 59 assumes Luck will be throwing Rogers and others as he continues the final stages of his exhaustive rehab program. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t qualify as particularly newsworthy. But considering Luck’s progress in June, every throw the passer makes will be relevant as he prepares to surmount what’s been a significant hurdle to return to the field.
  • Chris Harris has some interesting incentives in his contract, one the Broncos adjusted this year. The standout cornerback’s been attached to an incredibly team-friendly deal the past four years, and the Broncos added $3MM in incentives. Some of those escalators can only be triggered by team success, with the six-, eight- and 10-win benchmarks representing possible six-figure bumps for the 29-year-old corner. Harris preferred that being part of his contract. “Last year was unacceptable as a team,” Harris said, via Nicki Jhabvala of The Athletic (subscription required) in an expansive piece on Denver’s DBs. “This year I’m putting that in my contract to make sure these guys are on the same page as me, how I think on the field and prepare them for games.”
  • Jhabvala adds that Denver’s Su’a Cravens addition could threaten Will Parks‘ role more than anyone else’s. The third-year defender serves as a backup safety and occasional dime linebacker, and Cravens looks set to make a strong push to assume that role for a team that gave up a fifth-round pick to get him. The Broncos were said to view Cravens strictly as a safety, but the former second-round pick played a hybrid role with the Redskins in 2016.

Broncos Notes: Keenum, Harris, Draft, Dixon

Mock drafts have gone in numerous directions regarding the Broncos‘ No. 5 overall pick, and it’s possible the team could make yet another big investment at the position. But if they do, Case Keenum will not be ceding the reins anytime soon. John Elway confirmed that if the Broncos do select a quarterback at No. 5 overall the recently signed quarterback would be the unquestioned first-stringer.

Case is our starter,’’ Elway said, via Mike Klis of 9News. “We’ll cross that road when we get there. Every situation for young quarterbacks is different. I think it’s different in today’s world, and the fact that it depends on what kind of football team those guys step onto.”

The 2016 Eagles thrust Carson Wentz into duty from the start because they traded Sam Bradford, whereas the 2017 Bears allowed Mike Glennon four starts before turning to Mitch Trubisky. It can be expected Keenum will have a longer leash, if the Broncos opt to bypass a top-tier non-QB.

Here’s the latest out of Denver:

  • The Broncos have gotten All-Pro work from Chris Harris for No. 2 cornerback money over the past three seasons. They’ve agreed to incentivize the eighth-year corner’s deal, and Klis details what that will entail. Harris was a first-team All-Pro in 2016 and a second-teamer in Denver’s Super Bowl season; should he land on one of those two teams this year, he’ll earn $500K. Harris can collect $200K for a two-interception season, and if he reaches five picks, Klis reports that bumps up to $500K. Harris has intercepted two passes in each of the past three seasons. Interestingly, the Broncos’ win total will impact their top corner as well. Klis reports Harris playing 65 percent of Denver’s snaps and the team winning six games will mean a $300K bonus, with a 75 percent snap season and eight Bronco wins meaning that spikes to $600K. Harris, who has an $8.5MM base salary in 2018, has been a full-time player for the past six seasons. If Denver returns to the playoffs, the soon-to-be 29-year-old DB earns $300K.
  • Prior to their trade earlier tonight, the Broncos and Giants had been circling each other about a deal for Riley Dixon for a bit now, per Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com (on Twitter). Klis reports (via Twitter) Vance Joseph told the incumbent punter the day the team signed Marquette King he would be moved. Multiple teams were interested in the third-year specialist, per Klis.
  • Elway appears to have evolved on his affinity for cannon-armed QBs. The addition of Keenum, who does not have an upper-echelon arm the way Paxton Lynch does, marked a change of pace for a GM that’s targeted tall passers with strong arms. “I was a lot more six or seven years ago, but then we had Peyton (Manning), right?’’ Elway said, via Klis. “Peyton was more of the cerebral type. I’ve learned a lot since I’ve been doing this job as far as what certain quarterbacks have success with.”
  • However, the GM that traded Tim Tebow after a memorable season doesn’t regard it as a must to have a mobile quarterback. “The bottom line is that I believe the one thing is that you got to be able to win from the pocket,” the eighth-year exec said. “You can win games, but you can’t win championships unless you have the ability to win it from the pocket. Then if you can get out and move around and create, and do those types of things then that’s an added bonus.” While the Broncos have been connected to Baker Mayfield, an earlier report indicated they were high on Josh Rosen — the least mobile of the top four QBs in this class.

Broncos Sweeten CB Chris Harris’ Deal

The Broncos have added $3MM in incentives to the contract of cornerback Chris Harris, Jr. for 2018, Field Yates of ESPN.com tweets. Originally slated to make no more than $8.5MM, the corner can now earn up to $10.5MM in 2018. 

It’s somewhat rare for GMs to add incentives to a player’s contract without getting something in return, but it’s completely unprecedented by John Elway‘s administration. This marks the first time that Elway has improved a player’s contract with the addition of bonuses without getting something else (additional years or a lower guarantee) in return.

In 2017, Harris turned in another quality year with 40 tackles, two interceptions and seven passes defensed as he graded out as the 29th best corner in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus. He has done even better in the past, however, grading out as a top five corner in both 2014 and 2016.

The Broncos also have Harris under contract for the 2019 season with a $8.766MM cap hit. However, if the Broncos choose to part ways with him next year, they can escape with just $867K in dead money.Right now, it’s hard to envision a scenario in which the Broncos would want to cut Harris.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Broncos Exercise CB Chris Harris’ Option

The Broncos have exercised the $1.1MM option on cornerback Chris Harris Jr.’s contract for 2018, a league source tells Mike Klis of 9NEWS (on Twitter). Harris is now slated to return with a cap number of $10.36MM for 2018, which presently stands as the sixth-highest charge on the team. 

This was another quality year for Harris as he amassed 40 tackles, two interceptions, seven passes defensed, and graded out as the 29th best corner in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus. He has done even better in the past, however, grading out as a top five corner in both 2014 and 2016.

This year, Harris will be extra important to the Broncos as they are likely to move on from veteran Aqib Talib. It’s rare that a team can lose a high-profile vet like Talib without serious external reinforcements, but that’s more or less what Denver will do with both Harris and Bradley Roby under contract. Denver is also set to return with Brendan Langley, Marcus Rios, and Michael Hunter.

Harris is also under contract for 2019 with a $8.766MM cap hit. However, if the Broncos choose to part ways with him next year, they can get out with just $867K in dead money.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Staff Notes: Tomsula, Callahan, Bills, Broncos

Jim Tomsula was out of football this season after a 5-11 campaign as San Francisco’s head coach in 2015, but it appears he’s about to resurface. The Redskins are targeting Tomsula, tweets Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee, though he doesn’t specify which position the 48-year-old would take in Washington. It seems likely Tomsula would coach the Redskins’ D-line, though, considering he held that role with the Niners from 2007-14. The Redskins have an opening there thanks to the firing of Robb Akey earlier this month.

More on several coaching staffs:

  • Newly minted Rams head coach Sean McVay has already reeled in one experienced coordinator in defensive chief Wade Phillips, and he could next add one on offense in Bill Callahan, reports Yahoo Sports’ Charles Robinson (Twitter link). Callahan is currently the Redskins’ offensive line coach – McVay, of course, was their offensive coordinator – and has been a coordinator in both Oakland and Dallas.
  • Along with officially hiring Leslie Frazier as their new defensive coordinator, the Bills announced the additions of Juan Castillo (offensive line coach/run game coordinator) and Bob Babich (linebackers) to their coaching staff Friday. They’ll also retain special teams coach Danny Crossman for a fifth season. Castillo, who spent the past four years with the Ravens, was previously a longtime staff member in Philadelphia – where he became familiar with new Bills head coach Sean McDermott. Babich coached the Chargers’ linebackers this past season, which came after a three-year run as the Jaguars’ defensive coordinator.
  • The Broncos have a couple candidates for their special teams coach job in Marwan Maalouf and Derius Swinton II, per Mike Klis of 9News (Twitter links). The Dolphins granted the Broncos permission to interview Maalouf, who’s Miami’s assistant special teams coach. Heading to Denver would mean once again working on the same staff as rookie head coach Vance Joseph, who was the Dolphins’ defensive coordinator in 2016. Swinton is currently the 49ers’ special teams coach, but his future there is in doubt with a new head coach on the way. He worked as the Broncos’ assistant special teams coach from 2013-14.
  • The Browns have hired DeWayne Walker to coach their defensive backs, according to Nate Ulrich of Ohio.com. Walker was in Jacksonville as its DBs coach over the past four years. In going to Cleveland, he’ll reunite with Browns head coach Hue Jackson and new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Walker worked with each of them in previous stops.
  • Chargers defensive line coach Giff Smith, defensive backs coach Ron Milus and assistant DBs coach Chris Harris will remain in place under Anthony Lynn, relays Sporting News’ Alex Marvez (Twitter link). They could end up on the defensive staff of Gus Bradley, who will interview for the Bolts’ D-coordinator job.

AFC West Rumors: Raiders, Miller, Harris

Las Vegas’ readiness for a potential Raiders commitment was set for a pivotal month, but the status of the city’s negotiations on stadium particulars has experienced a delay. Nevada governor Brian Sandoval extended the Southern Nevada Tourism and Infrastructure Committee a two-month extension for finalizing a stadium plan, the Associated Press reports.

The committee previously faced a deadline to submit a proposal to Sandoval by the end of July, but they’ll now continue to work out details — like the site for the venue and how it will be funded — until as late as Sept. 30. After a Monday meeting, the cost for the Vegas venue appears to have risen from its initial $1.45 billion projection. That figure now hovers between $1.7 billion and $2.1 billion, per the AP report, which also said nine sites came up as locales for a potential future Raiders and UNLV stadium.

Previously, we’d heard the deadline was merely being pushed back until the end of August. But it now appears the Raiders’ season will begin without the franchise knowing if it has a viable path to Nevada.

Here’s more from some Western-stationed franchises, starting with the defending Super Bowl champions.

  • Von Miller‘s threat to sit out the season remains “very real,” Rand Getlin of NFL.com hears (video link). Getlin describes some of Miller’s Broncos teammates as believing he will go through with this if he and the team cannot agree to a long-term contract by 3 p.m. on Friday. The NFL.com reporter still characterizes this deal as one that will be done by Friday, however.
  • Miller, though, has not enjoyed the Broncos’ negotiating methods this offseason, and Mike Klis of 9News now isn’t so sure the sides will agree in time. “They have championship tactics,’’ Miller said, via Klis. “I don’t agree with some of the stuff they do, but obviously it works.” The Broncos have sweetened their offer to Miller. Although it remains a six-year, $114.5MM proposal, a $19MM base salary for 2019 has been moved up to be guaranteed before the start of the 2017 league year. Klis notes that Miller voicing this disapproval after the Broncos enhanced the offer doesn’t bode well, and mentions that the team’s tactics — while having resulted in many extensions during John Elway‘s GM tenure — may have played a role in driving Brock Osweiler, Julius Thomas and Elvis Dumervil out of town.
  • Using 13 past examples of players who’ve chosen to hold out, Jason Cole of Bleacher Report believes the 27-year-old Miller’s value won’t depreciate if he sits out the season. Cole uses Sean Gilbert sitting out the 1997 season as his primary example of a player benefiting because of a holdout. The Redskins defensive lineman turned down a four-year, $13MM offer from Washington and did not sign the then-$3.5MM franchise tag. Both the Dolphins and Panthers put in enticing bids for Gilbert the following year, with Carolina sending two first-round picks to Washington in 1998 and then signing him to a seven-year, $46.5MM deal. It would cost a team a first- and third-round pick — and likely a record-breaking contract — to acquire Miller in 2017 should he sit out what would be his sixth NFL campaign and be tagged again. The Broncos could still match that offer as well.
  • Chris Harris became one of those aforementioned Broncos to sign a team-friendly extension during the past few years, and he argues that Denver’s cornerback wealth helps prevent him from being universally recognized as a top-tier corner. The sixth-year player told NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks that “if [Harris and Aqib Talib] were on other teams, say if I go play for the — just name a team — Jags or something like that, it’d be easy [to be the] No. 1 corner.” The two-time Pro Bowler declined to test free agency in 2015, instead signing a five-year, $42.5MM extension with the Broncos in December of 2014.
  • Signs are pointing to Eric Berry playing the 2016 season for the Chiefs on the franchise tag.

Watt, Bryant, Others Get Salary Guarantees

Several NFL players have contracts containing language which states that they’ll get a full or partial salary guarantees for 2016 and/or 2017 if they remained on their respective teams on Sunday, the fifth day of the league year. Let’s check in on those players (link courtesy of CBS Sports’ Joel Corry):

  • Ryan Tannehill, quarterback (Dolphins): $3.5MM of $17.975MM base salary for 2017 is guaranteed.
  • Dez Bryant, wide receiver (Cowboys): $13MM base salary for 2017 is guaranteed.
  • T.Y. Hilton, wide receiver (Colts): $3MM base salary for 2016 is guaranteed. $6MM roster bonus now "<strongpayable.
  • Anthony Castonzo, offensive tackle (Colts): $2.5MM base salary for 2016 is guaranteed. $4.5MM roster bonus now payable.
  • Tyron Smith, offensive tackle (Cowboys): $10MM base salary for 2016 is guaranteed.
  • Branden Albert, offensive tackle (Dolphins): $6MM of $8.245MM base salary for 2017 is guaranteed.
  • Mike Pouncey, center (Dolphins): $9MM base salary for 2016 is guaranteed, as is $2MM of Pouncey’s $7.95MM base salary in 2017.
  • Maurkice Pouncey, center (Steelers): $3.5MM roster bonus now payable.
  • Cameron Heyward, defensive end (Steelers): $5MM roster bonus now payable.
  • J.J. Watt, defensive end (Texans): $10.5MM base salaries for 2016 and 2017 are guaranteed.
  • Robert Quinn, defensive end (Rams): $7,777,777MM base salary for 2016 is guaranteed.
  • Lavonte David, linebacker (Buccaneers): $5MM base salary for 2016 is guaranteed.
  • Chris Harris Jr., cornerback (Broncos): $6.9MM base salary for 2016 is guaranteed.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Lions, Colts, Broncos, J. Smith

Now that the Lions have hired Bob Quinn as their new general manager, Detroit coaches are wondering if they still have a job, as Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press writes. Obviously, there will be some turnover as a new regime takes over, but two Lions coaches told Birkett they have not been updated as to the status of their employment.

However, the club’s head coach, Jim Caldwell, might be one of the lucky ones, as a Patriots insider tells Mike O’Hara of Lions.com that Quinn is likely to retain Caldwell for 2016. Detroit’s upper management has been adamant that the new GM would get to decide Caldwell’s fate, and while we’ll have to wait for official word, at least one source thinks Caldwell will get to stay.

Meanwhile, while interim GM Sheldon White was thanked in a team statement, there’s been no indication as to whether he’ll revert back to his old position of director of player personnel, tweets Paula Pasche of the Oakland Press.

More from around the league…

  • Though the Colts retained some level of stability by keeping both GM Ryan Grigson and head coach Chuck Pagano, the club’s roster figures to see an overhaul, per Mike Chappell of CBS4, who singles out Andre Johnson and Trent Cole as players who are likely to be cut this offseason.
  • By being selected second-team All-Pro instead of first-team, Broncos corner Chris Harris missed out on an extra $500K, according to Mike Klis of 9News. First-team recognition would have bumped up Harris’ 2016 salary from $6.9MM to $7.4MM.
  • Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith‘s surgery to repair a torn ACL and MCL “went about as well as it possibly could have,” a source tells Brian Hamilton of Sports Illustrated. Smith was expected to a be top-10 selection in this year’s draft, but that stock will obviously be affected by this major injury.
  • Had Hue Jackson been offered the opportunity to return as Raiders head coach for a second season in 2012, he planned to make a change at defensive coordinator. His No. 1 choice? Jack Del Rio, who is now ironically Oakland’s head coach himself. “I had him locked in and everything,” Jackson told Mike Silver of NFL.com. “I think we would have worked really well together.”

AFC West Notes: Broncos, Chargers

A look around the AFC West as Friday wraps up. . .

  • Despite entering last Sunday 6-0, there was skepticism regarding whether the Broncos were true Super Bowl contenders. But their defense erased it in suffocating a lethal Packers offense, writes Troy Renck of The Denver Post. In their 29-10 rout, the Broncos made the NFC’s best quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, look far below average in holding him to a shockingly low 77 yards on 22 attempts. Thanks in part to its destruction of the Rodgers-led Packers, Denver’s defense is atop the league in sacks, points per game, yards per game and yards per play, and Chuck Pagano – the head coach of the Broncos’ next opponent, the Colts – is well aware of the unit’s dominance. “When you put the tape on, they are very reminiscent of the 2000 (Baltimore) Ravens,” Pagano said. “They have talent on all levels.”
  • Broncos cornerback Chris Harris, one of the driving forces behind their their success, doesn’t see much parity in the NFL. “There are probably five teams that can win a Super Bowl each year. And everybody else is just there, really,” he told Lindsay H. Jones of USA Today. In assessing the league’s four currently undefeated teams – including his own – Harris said, “If you’re 7-0, you’re mainly good because you’re great. But you’re also good because you’ve got some games where it’s just a huge mismatch, and that isn’t the goal.”
  • Chargers general manager Tom Telesco bought low last offseason when he signed cornerback Patrick Robinson to a one-year, $1.25MM contract, a move that now looks like one of the best value pickups of the 2015 free agent class. The sixth-year man has held opposing quarterbacks to a horrid 45.9 passer rating the 23 times they’ve thrown his way, per Tom Krasovic of the San Diego Union-Tribune. That rating is easily the best among Chargers corners. Brandon Flowers, their most established CB, has been torched to the tune of a 136.5 rating on 45 attempts this season.

Broncos, Chris Harris Agree To Extension

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 seChris Harrise 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.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.