The 2020 NFL free agency period has been really good for the Denver Broncos, but it’s been absolutely brutal for almost all of their own free agents.
Denver Broncos fans have plenty of mixed emotions when John Elway decides to let prominent players test the free agent market.
In some cases, you have players like defensive lineman Malik Jackson and tight end Julius Thomas who sign big contracts right away. In other cases, like almost all of the team’s primary in-house free agents in 2020, you have players whose market is unusually dry.
Heading into the 2020 free agency period, I don’t think anyone expected Chris Harris Jr., Derek Wolfe, and Shelby Harris to be second-wave free agent types of guys, but the market was not kind to them.
Let’s recap what most of these players were asking or hoping for before they ultimately signed their free agent contracts.
Chris Harris Jr.
The saga between the Broncos and Chris Harris Jr. has been ongoing for quite some time now. Harris was locked into his contract before the Broncos ultimately went into rebuilding mode from 2017-19.
It’s been clear through his words and actions that the rebuild following the team’s win in Super Bowl 50 did not sit well with Harris.
Things got really intense in the 2019 offseason when the Broncos signed defensive back Kareem Jackson to a three-year, $33 million contract. Harris was outspoken about needing to be the highest paid defensive back on the team, so the Broncos obliged by ripping up the last year of his contract and giving him a new one-year deal worth $12.05 million.
That one-year deal made Harris the highest paid defensive back on the team, so all was well, right?
Harris’ frustration with his situation in Denver reached an unfortunate boiling point after the team’s 0-3 start when he openly shouted in the locker room that he only had 13 weeks left in Denver.
As it turns out, he was right, but not before Harris would turn down an extension offer from the Broncos.
It was clear at this point that Harris was holding out for a contract offer well north of $12 million per season.
So, when he hit free agency, it seemed like he was in line to get it.
Until he didn’t.
Not only did Harris not get more than $12 million per season, he didn’t even get close to that. As a matter of fact, his APY (average per year) salary on his new two-year deal with the Los Angeles Chargers is the same as the extension he once signed with the Denver Broncos — $8.5 million.
Harris received only $9.5 million in guarantees over two years with the Chargers, and that kind of a deal has to be a huge bummer for him after what he was apparently expecting to get when he turned down a very fair $12 million per year from John Elway and the Broncos.
When Derek Wolfe was getting set to hit free agency, he was unfortunately coming off of a season-ending elbow injury.
Although his injury history was certain to play some kind of role in his free agency, there was no way anyone could know that Wolfe would have to take such a team-friendly deal.
Wolfe agreed to join the Ravens on a one-year contract after saying he had a ‘floor’ of $9.75 million on a new deal with the Broncos.
Unfortunately, Wolfe wasn’t rewarded for what was a career year for him with seven sacks, and it’s even more unfortunate to see him leave Denver on a bargain deal like that.
Hopefully he’s able to put together a fully healthy 2020 season and get rewarded next offseason with a contract worth around $10 million per year.
Of all of the Broncos’ in-house free agents, it felt like Shelby Harris was perhaps the most likely of the big names to be gone.
Turns out, he’s the only one of them coming back.
Harris was pretty outspoken about what he thought of the Broncos not coming to him with an offer before the end of the 2019 season, saying it would have been a lot cheaper for them to keep him had they done that.
Spotrac.com had valued Harris over $11 million per season based on his age and performance. The NFL apparently didn’t agree with that valuation.
After the Indianapolis Colts — presumably Harris’ most likely destination at the start of free agency — traded for DeForest Buckner, Harris wound up playing a waiting game in free agency before taking a one-year contract from the Broncos worth up to $3.25 million. He has a guarantee of $2 million.
As crazy as it sounds, Mike Purcell got a higher guarantee on his restricted free agent contract (over $3 million) than Harris got from the Broncos.
The only Broncos free agent to receive anything close to market value?
Interior offensive lineman Connor McGovern.
McGovern signed a three-year deal worth $27 million and a solid $18 million in guarantees from the New York Jets.
Overall, it’s clear that expectations for the Broncos’ in-house free agents were not met. The players who all thought they were getting eight-figure contracts annually ended up having to really settle, and for short-term deals at that.
Both Derek Wolfe and Shelby Harris will be free agents again in 2021, and Chris Harris could find himself a cap casualty of the Chargers if his play doesn’t improve from what we saw in 2019.