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Chris Harris Jr. deserves every single penny of his new deal, and more

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Chris Harris goes from underpaid to justly paid.

Chris Harris does everything well at the CB position, and his instincts often lead to interceptions like this one vs. the Bills.
Chris Harris does everything well at the CB position, and his instincts often lead to interceptions like this one vs. the Bills.
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

On Friday night, the Broncos and cornerback Chris Harris Jr. reached an agreement on a new contract, which will keep Harris Jr. in the orange and blue for another five seasons. The 25 year old corner has played all four seasons of his career with the Broncos, after signing with the team as an undrafted free agent in 2011. The new deal is worth a total value of $42.5 million dollars over five years, and includes a $10 million dollar signing bonus. The deal in place makes Harris the highest paid undrafted cornerback ever; and while it may seem out of place for outsiders looking in, the deal is fully justified within Broncos Country, where everyone knows the value of Harris Jr. as a player and a person. Harris Jr. is worth every single penny of that contract, and more.

Chris Harris Jr., plain and simple, does absolutely everything well when it comes to the cornerback position; he covers well in man and zone coverage, tackles well, plays the run well, and has the signature instincts that are so important for the position. The fourth-year college free agent, who played his college ball at Kansas, has been lights out for the Broncos in 2014 (and the past two seasons for that matter), yet he still remains under the radar to most of the league, and a large majority of the media.

Rather than being recognized as one of the best cornerbacks in the entire league, a player who dominates at every aspect of his position, Harris Jr. is instead only talked about when he's being referred to as one of the league's most underrated players. Yes, it is true that Harris is criminally underrated; but he's not just one of the most underrated at the cornerback position, or the league for that matter, he's the best cornerback in the entire NFL.

Harris Jr. cleans up the competition when it comes to grading on Pro Football Focus (PFF), often recognized as the gold standard for player evaluation in the NFL. The Broncos corner is the highest rated corner in the entire league on the site, with a 22.3 rating; the next closest player is Darrelle Revis (19.5).

HarrisJr.1

Harris Jr. boasts gaudy numbers in pass coverage, allowing just 53.2% of 77 targets (41) to be completed against receivers he has covered in 2014, including three interceptions and eight pass deflections; opposing quarterbacks have managed just a 46.9 QBR when targeting him. And while Harris hasn't received enough respect from fans and media, opposing quarterbacks continue to disrespect his prowess, and continue to be proven foolish. Kyle Orton targeted Harris a season-high nine times in Week 14 and completed six of those passes for 53 yards; however, Harris got the better of Orton at the end of the day, allowing just one reception longer than 10 yards, and picking off the Bills QB in the end-zone in what was one of the key plays in the game.

The best game of Harris' season undoubtedly came against the Arizona Cardinals in Week Five, where he allowed 0-of-7 targets to be completed, adding four pass deflections in an effort that resulted in a combined 39.6 QBR for Drew Stanton and Logan Thomas when targeting him.

Harris doesn't allow passes to be caught often, and when he does, it's rarely for significant yardage. In fact, the longest pass caught against the corner this season was 22 yards, and he's allowed just two receptions longer than 20 yards. In four of thirteen games, Harris has allowed under 10 passing yards to opposing QBs, while allowing over 50 just twice.

Consistency, even through a serious injury

What adds to the impressiveness of Harris Jr.'s incredible season, is that the young corner is doing all of this after returning from a torn ACL that ended his 2013 season early. After rehabbing all off-season, Harris has played over 90% of the team's defensive snaps in all but two games; one was the first game of the season against the Colts, and the second was against the 49ers when starting players were removed from the game early due to the Broncos' lead. In other words, Harris is doing all of this after coming back from one of the most serious injuries that can befall any NFL player, let alone a cornerback who is so dependent on quick, agile movements. Harris did not just overcome this injury to play a supporting role on a Super Bowl contender; rather, he overcame the injury to put up one of the most impressive seasons for a cornerback in recent memory.

Harris Jr.'s season numbers are extremely impressive, but what makes them more impressive is the fact that they're consistent with his last two seasons. Yes, Harris isn't just doing this once, or for the first time, he's repeating it for a third season in a row. The 5'10" corner finished 2012 with a final grade of 20.0 (5th) on Pro Football Focus, following that up with a 2013 final grade of 12.2 (8th), and currently holds the highest grade of all corners in 2014 (22.3). Just one other player has replicated this feat over the last three seasons, and he's the guy who everyone can't stop talking about in Seattle. The only season that Sherman has had a clear advantage over Harris was in both corners' rookie campaigns, where Sherman graded out with a final grade of

Pro Bowl snub

Despite his incredible play over the last three seasons, Chris Harris Jr. has yet to be selected to a Pro Bowl team. While the Pro Bowl isn't always (or is never) an accurate depiction of the best talent in the league, that's what it is meant to be. Unfortunately, fan voting often turns the game into a popularity contest, which is unfortunate for Harris Jr., who is relatively unknown by fans of teams outside of Denver, or at least outside of the AFC West opponents who have to go up against him twice a year. This is why, despite his incredibly play, Harris is not even within the top ten cornerbacks in fan voting up to this point in the fan voting for this year's Pro Bowl. While Broncos fans (and Harris) both hope that he won't have the chance to play in the game due to a berth in the Super Bowl, the recognition of being selected is something that Harris deserves. Taking a look at what Harris brings to the table, compared with the current top ten vote getters leaves much to wonder about the current process of selection, if the Pro Bowl is supposed to truly showcase the best talent in the NFL.

Joe Haden

Richard Sherman

Darrelle Revis

Buster Skrine

Brent Grimes

Aqib Talib

Patrick Peterson

Kyle Fuller

Perrish Cox

Antonio Cromartie

Chris Harris Jr.

2012 PFF

8.4

25.7

6.0

-3.2

-1.2

-1.5

10.5

N/A

-5.0

9.4

20.0

2013 PFF

9.3

13.4

18.6

-12.1

16.5

0.1

9.6

N/A

-1.0

-11.4

12.2

2014 PFF

6.3

15.7

19.5

-1.9

3.5

-0.2

-6.7

-11.2

2.8

5.7

22.3

Avg. PFF

8

18.3

14.7

-5.7

6.3

-0.5

4.5

-11.2

-1.1

1.2

18.2

Cover Snaps/Rec.

10.1

19.2

15.4

9.0

10.7

10.7

9.7

7.8

9.6

13.5

12.9

Cmp %

53.5

43.4

48.5

55.2

54.3

59.5

62.0

63.3

59.3

55.4

53.2

Opp. QBR

75.6

46.8

67.9

80.4

63.6

85.5

113.1

93.3

73.8

71.5

46.9

Yards/Cover Snap

1.24

0.74

0.89

1.40

1.05

1.03

1.44

1.62

1.46

1.03

0.59

As can be seen in the chart, Harris outclasses everyone except for Sherman in average PFF grade over the last three seasons, as well as opponents' QBR. As for the current season, which is the season that fans are voting on, Harris ranks as the top cornerback in PFF rating, third in cover snaps per reception, third in completion percentage, and first in yards per cover snap by a long-shot.

Worth even more?

Looking at the statistics that Harris has amassed over his last three seasons, it's without question that he is worth every penny of his new contract in Denver. That being said, it's also obvious that the Broncos' corner has been much better than players who will still be paid more than him; this begs the question, is Harris Jr. worth more than what the Broncos are going to be paying him?

With the new contract in place, Harris will be paid less than players like Leon Hall (CIN), Johnathan Joseph (HOU), and Patrick Peterson (ARI), all of whom Harris has vastly outperformed over the last three seasons. And despite the fact that Richard Sherman and Harris Jr. have been nearly identical in statistical play over these three seasons, Sherman will be paid an average of $14M per season on his current contract.

The easy answer to the above question is simple: yes, Chris Harris Jr. is worth more than his new contract; it doesn't take a degree in business of sport to know that signing the best cornerback in the league to a contract that will pay him as the 12th-best corner in the league is an absolute steal. The deal exemplifies the negotiating abilities of John Elway in building a contender in Denver, but it also shows the willingness of very talented players like Harris to take pay cuts to play for a winning organization.

Harris explained that he knew he could have fetched more money on the open market in free agency, but that the fans, the city of Denver, and the organization as a whole were factors in keeping him a Bronco. Harris undoubtedly gave the Broncos a hometown discount, and enough cannot be said about a player who makes this sort of commitment to his team.

In summary, Harris' contract is almost a metaphor for his career in the NFL thus far- it's a fantastic accomplishment, and something that he never was expected to achieve, considering his entry into the NFL as a UDFA; however, it remains under the radar of the so-called best players at the position, as Harris has this far into his career.

Chris Harris Jr. has earned every single penny of his new contract extension, and the Broncos made the right choice in making him their number one priority of their numerous upcoming big-name free agents. The urgency with which this contract was taken care of shows that the Broncos know just how valuable Harris can be; now it's up to the rest of the league to wipe the sleep out of their eyes, and realize that the answer to the best CB in the league debate is right under their noses in Denver. One thing is for sure: five years from now, when this contract is over, there is almost zero chance that Harris remains an unknown commodity in the NFL.