DENVER — Chris Harris Jr.'s desire for a new contract, and the Broncos' desire not to discuss it on his timetable or guarantee it will get done has created a potential untenable situation as the draft nears. According to Denver7 sources, Harris, who turns 30 on June 18, wants a trade if no deal can be reached, his stance hardened after general manager John Elway's comments about the contract talks on Tuesday.
Harris seeks a contract extension well beyond the deals received by the Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward (three-year, $33.25 million, $20 million guaranteed) and Broncos' free agent addition Kareem Jackson (three-year, $33 million, $23,000,000 guaranteed). Harris wants a deal in the neighborhood of $14 to $15 million per season. Denver is unlikely to pay him that amount, per a source.
Elway met with Harris' reps at the NFL combine in February, leaving optimism that something could be worked as he entered the final season of his contract. The Broncos picked up the $1 million option on Harris' $7.9 million salary in March. However, Harris has skipped the voluntary workouts as he seeks a new contract. His situation took an ominous turn Tuesday when Elway spoke in his pre-draft presser and was asked why he hasn't addressed Harris' situation.
"I don’t have time right now. I’m busy with the draft. We’ll talk about Chris. He’s under contract, so we’ll talk about that when the draft is over. When I say this, I said we’re going to talk about it. It doesn’t mean we’re going to do it," Elway said, before being asked if he's considered dealing the popular veteran. “I haven’t even thought about that, so no. We have not gotten there. Like I said, we’ll talk about Chris’ contract when the draft’s over and see what they’re looking for.”
Sources told Denver7 that Harris' camp viewed Elway's comments as disrespectful.
If the gap can't be bridged, it could lead to the Broncos considering trading him, though they don't have to. Harris has been unhappy with how the offseason has unfolded with his goal of a new deal while the Broncos added defensive backs Jackson and Bryce Callahan (three-year, $21 million deal, $10 million guaranteed). ESPN first reported that Harris wants to be moved without an extension.
Harris would be a valuable trade chip during the Thursday's first round if the Broncos move on from the four-time Pro Bowler and first-team All-Pro in 2016. What would they they get in return? A second-rounder? A third-rounder? It might depend on whether the acquiring team knows it can sign Harris to a new deal. Plenty of teams are seeking corner help including the Colts, Cowboys, Eagles, Packers or possibly the Rams, where former Broncos coordinator Wade Phillips runs the defense.
The Broncos' posture this offseason has centered on returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2015. While an argument can be made for not paying Harris a premium given his age, it's hard to argue the Broncos will be better next year without him. He's widely considered the team's second best player behind Von Miller.
Multiple mocks and sources have the Broncos focusing on Michigan linebacker Devin Bush with the 10th pick overall. Could Harris' situation change the thinking? The Broncos could trade out of 10 to 15 or 17 and draft someone like tight end Noah Fant and use an additional second rounder to move up and take a corner of the likes of Washington's Byron Murphy or Georgia's Deandre Baker. The Broncos went through something similar last season with veteran Aqib Talib. He clashed with the former coaching staff, and wanted out. The Broncos secured a deal with the 49ers, but the then 32-year-old Talib balked, wanting only the Patriots, Cowboys or Rams. The Broncos ultimately moved him to the Rams for a fifth-round pick.