Broncos, Chris Harris Jr. Did Everything Right With New Contract


When young players and free agents walk into Denver Broncos head quarters at Dove Valley, they should see two things. First and foremost, they should see two (hopefully three) Lombardi Trophies and a big display of what excellence in the NFL looks like. The next thing they should see is a huge canvas print of recently re-signed cornerback Chris Harris Jr.

Coming out of Kansas in 2011, Harris Jr. was not even an afterthought by NFL Draft analysts and scouts. He was, if you’ll remember, not even on Mike Mayock’s board. Mayock is the lead NFL Draft analyst for NFL Network and evaluates hundreds of players around the country, and somehow, Harris slipped through the cracks.

The Broncos certainly aren’t complaining now, and they weren’t then either when they picked up Harris for a salary that cost them under $500K in the first year. The rookie free agent out of Kansas impressed the coaching staff in his rookie season, and worked his butt off to make a roster that was coming off the worst season the Broncos have had since the 1960s. John Fox was the new head coach in Denver, and John Elway was the man in charge of making all the big decisions player-wise, and with number two overall pick Von Miller in the fold, Denver figured to be much improved defensively.

They were, in fact, and they wound up overcoming a 1-4 start under Kyle Orton to an 8-8 finish and a shocking AFC West division title. A victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs put the Broncos back on the map nationally again, and the next offseason, Peyton Manning came to town.

Over the course of his rookie season, this kid Chris Harris kept making plays as the Broncos’ slot/dime cornerback. It wasn’t anything outrageous, but Harris was playing really well as a rookie, racking up 72 tackles and an interceptions while playing the slot corner position and special teams.

In 2012, Harris was entrenched as the main nickel cornerback, playing in a much larger percentage of snaps than anyone anticipated this young kid out of Kansas could, and he finished his second season with 61 tackles, 12 pass breakups, and three interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns.

At this point, Harris proved he was no fluke, and some major outlets were starting to take notice, but he still wasn’t getting enough national respect. At this juncture of his career, it was still cute for analysts to call Harris an ‘underrated’ player.

In 2013, Harris started playing all over the field for the Broncos, who had a variety of injuries in the secondary including future Hall of Famer Champ Bailey. He finished with another great season, racking up 65 tackles, 13 pass breakups, and three more interceptions. Entering a contract year in 2014, it was clear that Harris had established himself as the Broncos’ top cornerback, but he also had to face some serious adversity.

In the Broncos’ divisional playoff win over the San Diego Chargers, Harris Jr. partially tore his ACL, and was lost for the remainder of the playoffs. It was a devastating injury for the Broncos, who could’ve clearly used him in the Super Bowl, but Harris got himself back into playing condition for the start of the 2014 season, and hasn’t looked back.

So far this year, he’s been the Broncos’ most versatile defensive back and is Pro Football Focus’ number one ranked cornerback in the entire league. He’s not only playing the slot, he’s covering teams’ best receivers. In 2014, he’s got 45 tackles, 15 pass breakups, and three more interceptions, giving him 10 for his career.

The Broncos rewarded their top corner by giving him a five-year contract extension worth $42.5 million and $24 million guaranteed. Harris clearly did right by the Broncos, as most people expected him to command at least $10-12 million on the open market. The Broncos did right by Harris by promptly rewarding him with a new contract after four years of hard work, great production, and setting an example that every single player in the league should follow.

Harris is a model of what hard work in the NFL will get you, and having a mindset of taking every snap like it’s your last. He’s always been the kind of player who was willing to take on the biggest challenge. Whether it was covering the other team’s top receiver, playing in the slot, playing outside, coming up to the line to make tackles in run support — it’s the attitude that superstar players need to have, that they are there to help the team win in whatever way they can.

Harris has always had that. The Broncos took notice very early on in the process, and when he was forced into action back in his rookie season, there was no turning back, really. Harris has taken every opportunity and made the most out of it, going from an undrafted free agent to an elite player at the cornerback position. The Broncos have rewarded that hard work appropriately, and can use their star defender as a model for other players coming in — if you work hard, you get rewarded. Plain and simple. It doesn’t matter what kind of prospect you were in college, where you were drafted, or even how good you thought you were. If you buy in to the skills you have and maximize everything you can on every single snap, results will come.

The results are in. Chris Harris Jr. is a flat out beast.

The No Fly Zone is here to stay.