Cornerback Chris Harris Jr. doesn’t see any reason to lament his lot in life right now.
Despite dealing with a torn left ACL that sidelined him for the Super Bowl and probably cost him $1 million in salary next season, the Denver Broncos’ most versatile cornerback was thrilled to sign his one-year restricted free-agent tender Tuesday.
It will pay him $2,187,000 next season – or more than 1,000 times the $2,000 signing bonus he received four years ago as an undrafted college free agent.
”I’ll take it,” Harris told The Associated Press. ”I’m definitely happy with it. I’m excited to go back out there, get back healthy and lead this team back to the Super Bowl.”
Had Harris not gotten hurt in the playoffs, the Broncos would have probably had to use the highest tender on him – a one-year deal worth more than $3.1 million that carried a first-round pick as compensation. Instead, they were able to use the second-highest tender available.
With the Broncos able to match any offers, no suitors came calling for Harris, who’s been rehabbing at the Broncos’ facilities since shortly after undergoing surgery in February following Denver’s loss to Seattle in the Super Bowl.
”Teams were not going to give up a second-round pick. We realized that,” Harris said. ”We know that next year is a big year for me.”
Harris’ ligament in his left knee wasn’t completely torn when he got hurt against San Diego in the playoffs and he and the Broncos are optimistic he’ll be ready by the start of training camp in July and will resume his role as a leader on Denver’s defense. If that happens, the Broncos are expected to work toward a longer-term deal for Harris after next season when he hits unrestricted free agency.
”I definitely think I’ll be close to 100 percent by the start of training camp,” Harris said. ”You never know with this type of injury, but the ligament wasn’t completely torn and right now I’m feeling great. The treatment is going great and I’m improving each week.”
Harris is coming off a monster year in which he posted 65 tackles, 58 of them solo, three interceptions and 14 pass breakups while allowing the fifth-fewest yards receiving (25 a game) and tying for the eighth-fewest completions allowed (35) in the NFL among players targeted at least 60 times.
His emergence and versatility playing both the slot and on the outside helped the Broncos decide to bid farewell to star Champ Bailey this offseason after he played sparingly last year. Then, the signing of fellow University of Kansas alum Aqib Talib led to the departure of free agent Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
”Champ and I always talked and we kind of understood this would probably happen. We weren’t surprised” by Bailey’s exit, Harris said. ”Losing Champ, I feel I can take over his role on the field and also I can take over his leadership role. If you look at it, I was the starting corner pretty much the whole season last year.
”You see my production and you see Talib, me and him have played together before, so we’re familiar with each other communication-wise, chemistry-wise, and that’s a big thing.”
Harris was a freshman at Kansas in 2007 when Talib was an All-American his junior year before being drafted in the first round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that following spring.
”We’ve always been pretty tight. And friends always joke around saying, `What if you and Talib play together now?”’ Harris said. ”Now, it’s kind of crazy. I was just a freshman. I was young and still learning the game. Now, I’m in my fourth season in the NFL and with all Aqib’s experience, we’ve got a pretty solid duo. It’s going to be great.”