ENGLEWOOD — The Denver Broncos on Tuesday agreed to terms on a new one-year deal for All-Pro cornerback Chris Harris Jr. that will add approximately $3 million to his salary for the upcoming season to $12.05 million, according to sources with knowledge of the deal.
The star cornerback wanted an extension after outperforming his deal, which called for an $8.9 million salary this season. The Broncos sought something shorter, minimizing their risk for a player who turns 30 on June 18 . As a result, the sides reached a compromise on a salary boost for this season on Tuesday afternoon.
"We have a lot of respect for Chris as a player and for everything he's meant to our organization," Broncos general manager John Elway said in a statement. "This contract adjustment recognizes his value to our team and the high expectations we have for Chris as a Broncos this season and hopefully for years to come."
Harris sought to make between $14 and $15 million this year, a number that would reflect his play and value to the Broncos. He would then become a free agent after the season. The Broncos and Harris began conversations at the combine in February about a potential contract extension, creating optimism he might retire a Bronco. However, the landscape changed when Denver signed free agent cornerback/safety Kareem Jackson (three-year, $33 million; $23 million guaranteed) and cornerback Bryce Callahan (three-year, $21 million; $10 million guaranteed).
Ultimately it came down to this: The Broncos made Harris the highest-paid cornerback on the team, which was appropriate and not an accident following the signing of Jackson. And Elway found a solution that avoided an ugly, protracted negotiation given how far apart the sides were on an extension. This move eliminates an ongoing distraction leading into training camp, while keeping open the option of signing Harris to extension after this season when both sides have a better idea of where the team stands and where Harris' play ranks. Harris is ready to get going, telling Denver7 he's happy with the increase.
"It got me in the top 4 cash (for CBs) this year," Harris said. "Oh yeah, I could (have) pushed it more. I am just glad I can get on the field and be free agent next year." Harris later tweeted, "Thanks @johnelway @Broncos Ima put on a show this year . Let’s get it #StrapHarris."
His teammates were thrilled. Several had advocated for Harris over the last month.
"I am fired up for him. It's weird not seeing him in the huddle," defensive end Derek Wolfe told Denver7. "Happy we get another year together."
Added defensive end Adam Gotsis told Denver7, "Absolutely stoked for Chris. He is a great player and a huge impact guy for us, also a guy that this city loves and who puts a lot of time into kids and communities around Denver. So, it’s awesome to see a guy like that get rewarded , looking forward to having him back!"
Tuesday represented the end of a long, odd journey.
Following free agency, Elway shifted his focus to the draft. Harris made a request through his agent that he wanted $15 million per season in an extension, or preferred a trade. While multiple teams showed interest in Harris during the draft, per sources, the Broncos set the acquisition price high. No deal materialized, and Harris' camp was not granted permission to speak to teams about facilitating a trade.
Two weeks ago, the ice thawed. After first proposing an incentive-laced bump, similar to the course taken prior to last year, the Broncos began focusing on a straight salary increase this season as reported by Denver7 on May 17. Harris has skipped the voluntary workouts this offseason as he seeks a new deal. He has been working out in Dallas with his training staff, improving his speed and quickness as he looks to return to All-Pro status. With the deal finalized, Harris is expected to work out with the Broncos during the team's OTA practices Wednesday-Friday, collecting workout bonuses in the process. Mandatory workouts are June 4-6, the last team activities before breaking until training camp.
The Broncos had Harris under contract, so why do anything, let alone a one-year adjustment? Getting Harris back in the fold helps chemistry as multiple players have spoken out in support of the veteran, including linebacker Von Miller, Wolfe and safety Justin Simmons. Harris' talent also improves new coach Vic Fangio's chances of producing a winning season, the team's first since 2016. The Broncos, too, are thin at cornerback. With Harris absent and second-year corner Isaac Yiadom limited as he returns from a dislocated shoulder, the Broncos used De'Vante Bausby with the first team last week. While Bausby has experience in Fangio's defense, he last played in the shuttered Alliance of American Football for the San Antonio Commanders, leading the league with five interceptions.
Harris is a former Walter Payton Man of The Year for his work in the community and represents one of four undrafted cornerbacks to make at least four Pro Bowls with his original team. He achieved the honor last season despite playing 12 games. The Broncos finished the season on a four-game losing streak after Harris fractured his right leg on Dec. 2 at Cincinnati. Harris healed quickly and played well in the Pro Bowl in Orlando, recording an interception after a strong week of practice.
"He's done everything right," Miller said. "You want to see him taken care of."
Pro Football Focus graded Harris as the game's third-best corner last season behind New England's Stephon Gilmore and the Chargers' Desmond King III. Harris finished with 49 tackles and three interceptions, and could have an even greater impact in Fangio's read-and-react defense that splices in zone coverages.