Broncos: Shelby Harris has a complicated free agency value

Denver Broncos DL Shelby Harris. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
Denver Broncos DL Shelby Harris. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports /

The Denver Broncos have big decisions to make on in-house free agents in the 2021 offseason. Not only does the team have some high-profile restricted free agents, but they also have huge contract options on players that could go either way.

The biggest unrestricted free agent the Broncos have to worry about keeping for the long-term is undoubtedly All-Pro, Pro Bowl safety Justin Simmons. Right behind Simmons is free agent defensive lineman Shelby Harris.

Harris returned to the Denver Broncos for the 2020 season after hitting free agency a year ago when many felt like he would cash in on a tremendous handful of years with the Broncos leading up to his free agency.

Entering the 2021 free agency period, Harris’ value is extremely complicated to predict.

At this time a year ago, it seemed obvious that some salary cap rich team would offer Harris anywhere from $9-11 million per year on a three- or four-year contract, and that would be the end of his time in Denver.

When it was reported that he was sticking around with the Broncos on a one-year, $3.25 million deal with just $2.5 million guaranteed, it’s fair to say that everyone in Broncos Country was unanimously shocked.

Over the last two seasons, Harris has more than proven his worth to the Denver Broncos. He has been outstanding as an all-around defensive lineman, averaging these numbers on a per-16 game basis since 2019:

  • 48 total tackles
  • 7 tackles for loss
  • 10 QB hits
  • 5.0 sacks
  • 9 batted passes

Consider the fact that in 2019 and 2020, Harris played 60 percent and 43 percent of the Broncos’ defensive snaps respectively. He’s posting fantastic numbers despite not even being on the field for 70 percent of the snaps. In fact, he’s been on the field way less than that.

Harris has excelled in Vic Fangio’s defense, there’s no doubt about it. After playing last year for just $3.25 million, where will the Broncos value him in 2021? What about other teams?

Just because Harris didn’t get a big-money deal in 2020 doesn’t mean he would not get one again in 2021, but it does make you wonder.

Harris missed time in 2020 on the COVID/reserve list as well as for a knee injury. He will be 30 years old this upcoming season, and that will obviously be a factor when it comes to teams giving him a bunch of guaranteed money over a longer period of time.

Harris has played like a top-tier defensive lineman, but his situation doesn’t necessarily indicate that he’s going to get paid like one.

Because he hasn’t played more than 60 percent of the defensive snaps in any of his NFL seasons and because he will be 30 this year, Harris’ value is extremely complicated to predict because the production has been there.

It seems likely Harris will get a solid three- or four-year deal in free agency from someone, perhaps even from the Denver Broncos. That would put him under contract through his age 32/33 season.

Because the next long-term deal Harris signs will likely be his first and only in the NFL, he’s going to want to cash in.

The Broncos could try to offer him a three-year deal worth up to $7M or so per season, but would that be enough to get a deal done?