George Paton’s trade for Russell Wilson gives the Denver Broncos their franchise quarterback. It also leaves them without a draft pick in the first 63 selections to address the other needs on the roster, so free agency is an absolutely critical to addressing holes in the roster this offseason. One position group that needs some attention is cornerback, where Essang Bassey is the only nickel under contract.
Could Chris Harris Jr. return to the orange and blue after two years with the Los Angeles Chargers? Should Paton and the Broncos pursue him?
Weight: 194 pounds
Age: 33 years old in June
Experience: 11 seasons
Why it makes sense
The Broncos currently have four cornerbacks under contract who have NFL experience. Patrick Surtain II looked like a future Pro Bowl fixture during his rookie season while Ronald Darby is entering the second year of a 3-year $30 million contract. Behind them is 2020 third round pick Michael Ojemudia, and Essang Bassey, who spent time on both the Chargers and Broncos in 2022. Every member of the cornerback room spent a part of the ‘21 season on Injured Reserve, and Surtain, Darby, and Ojemudia are better fits for the boundary than slot.
While cornerbacks tend to age in dog years after 30, Harris notched five pass breakups and a pick as he allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 55% of their 40 passes in his direction for 288 yards and three touchdowns by Sports Info Solutions charting. Harris spent most of his career playing like a savvy veteran, and he still reads routes and anticipates opponents at a very high level. He also offers some value as depth for the boundary corners, which can’t be overlooked considering their respective injury histories.
The Broncos defense looks like it will continue to lean into the Fangio system under Ejiro Evero, which makes Harris Jr. an easy projection. The veteran spent 2019 under the Broncos’ former head coach and the Chargers’ run a variant of the same defense under Brandon Staley.
Why it doesn’t make sense
The biggest concern is how Father Time looms over Harris Jr. Cornerbacks tend to age in dog years after 30 and Harris has missed 10 games over the last two years because of injury. His quickness and long speed have begun to decline and that could create matchup issues in the AFC West.
As a fan I think it’d be really cool to see Strap return to the Broncos. I remain adamant that Strap’s last season with the Broncos was a lot better than he got credit for. Now that time has passed to offer a little perspective, it’s worth remembering how Von Miller notched more than twice the pressures of any other member of the defense and the rest of the cornerback room consisted of guys like Isaac Yiadom, Davontae Harris, and Duke Dawson. The Broncos used Harris Jr. as a move piece to try and mitigate the damage opposing WR1s could do to them, even though it hurt his individual numbers.
If it were up to me Harris Jr. would make the Hall of Fame, as the first elite slot from the current era. Lest we forget, John Elway was ahead of the curve extending Harris Jr. to become a mainstay of the Broncos defense right as coordinators around the league evolved to a nickel base to counter offenses running three receiver sets on 60%+ of their snaps.
At this point in Harris Jr’s career it’s probably optimistic to count on him as more than a year-to-year stopgap. The Broncos have the cap space and the need to take a swing this year if the contract details work out. Like the Miller situation, it may not matter if Paton prefers an alternative.
Should the Broncos pursue a reunion with Chris Harris Jr.?
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