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Examining A Possible Extension For Chris Harris, Jr.

John Elway, wisely in my opinion, said that he would not address Chris Harris, Jr.’s contract until after the draft was over. Harris, also wisely in my opinion, has made it repeatedly clear that he wants an improvement from his current contract in its last season, to the point that reports are that he wants to be traded if the Broncos don’t give him a new contract.

Now that the draft is over, addressing Harris’s contract should be priority #1 for Elway and the Broncos front office. How could the two sides find common ground to keep Elway in Denver at a fair rate?

What does Harris want in his new contract?

This a very important question to ask, as it’s not clear to outside world what that is. All that we have so far is a report from Mike Klis that Harris wants at least $15 million per year. But APY as a measure alone, as we all know, can be very misleading. It can be very easy for the Broncos to craft a contract that is nominally $15 million APY but is heavily backloaded to give the Broncos an easy out to avoid paying the majority of the contract if they so choose. In addition to APY, the other two factors that have to be addressed in conjunction with it are guarantees and cash flow. Harris’s camp will know that putting all three together matters for crafting a contract that’s fair for him.

Finally, the length of contract will also matter for structuring purposes. Does Harris want a long term commitment to Denver in some form? Or is he more concerned with getting top pay right now? Either request is fair, and a contract can be structured to suit either purpose.

Harris’s valuation of talent starts above Kareem Jackson, and ends at the top.

One thing should be absolutely clear: Harris should be compensated better than Kareem Jackson. Jackson is one year older than Harris, and the consensus is clear that Harris is a better player than Jackson. In his three year contract with the Broncos signed this offseason, Jackson got the following:

  • $11 million APY (ranked 13th)
  • $23 million in full guarantees (ranked 8th)
  • $12 million in one year cash flow (ranked 16th)
  • $23 million in two year cash flow (ranked 14th)
  • $33 million in three year cash flow (ranked 13th)

Harris should not, and will not, accept anything close to that. Instead, he should demand at an absolute minimum to be placed in a range above Jackson in all three metrics. Below is a table of the top, median, and bottom of these ranges, along with the representative player of each metric:

Range APY Full Guarantees Cash Flow
1 Year 2 Year 3 Year
Top $15,000,000 (Josh Norman) $36,500,000 (Josh Norman) $26,000,000 (Trumaine Johnson) $37,000,000 (Josh Norman) $51,000,000 (Josh Norman)
Median $13,750,000 (Desmond Trufant) $28,800,000 (Janoris Jenkins) $20,000,000 (Kyle Fuller) $29,000,000 (Kyle Fuller) $42,000,000 (Stephon Gilmore)
Bottom $11,416,667 (Casey Hayward) $23,100,000 (Darius Slay) $13,500,000 (A.J. Bouye) $23,000,000 (Dre Kirkpatrick) $34,250,000 (Casey Hayward)

Look at some of the names within this table, and be honest with your assessment of Harris: if you think that he’s better than some of the players listed there, then he should be paid better than those players.

Some sample contracts

Before we proceed, an important note: for simplicity purposes only, I am leaving alone Harris’s $7.8 million base salary for 2019 from his current contract (except for fully guaranteeing it, which should be a formality). This is to best illustrate the new money that Harris would be getting in an extension. In reality, some or most of this old money would be moved around in the new contract. The Broncos might want this to gain cap space now, and Harris might want to do this to make it a little tougher for the Broncos to terminate his new contract early. The full guarantee of the old money also allows Harris’s camp to inflate the guarantees to NFL insiders in the media if they so choose.

Also note that all base salaries that are in italics are fully guaranteed, and that all years with an asterisk next to them are option years.

Contract A: the APY setting deal

YearBase SalaryProrated BonusCap NumberDead MoneyCap Savings

If Harris wants the potential to make the most money via completing his entire contract, then here’s a structure to accomplish that with. This is a three year, $46.5 million extension that at $15.5 million APY eclipses the current clubhouse leader in that department in Norman.

However, in exchange for the good APY, Harris yields on the guarantees. With only a $16 million signing bonus and his $8 million 2020 base salary fully guaranteed, $24 million at total just barely eclipses Jackson in that department. The running cash flows of $24 million, $34 million, and $46.5 million also fail to catch any of the leaders in that metric.

This extension could also very easily only run one year into the extension should Harris’s play decline, as both 2021 and 2022 are easy for the Broncos to escape from.

Contract B: the full guarantee setting deal

YearBase SalaryProrated BonusOption BonusCap NumberDead MoneyCap Savings

If, on the other hand, Harris wants the security of guaranteed money, then this is a structure that can get it done. Harris gets a $20 million signing bonus, both his 2020 and 2021 base salaries are fully guaranteed for an additional $13 million, and finally, a $4 million option bonus attached to the 2022 option year, due one day before the start of that new league year, is fully guaranteed.

(To briefly explain how the $4 million option bonus could work, it would be payable regardless of whether or not the Broncos actually exercise the option–if they didn’t, it would be more akin to an exit bonus. But if they did, a trigger could also be added to it that would fully guarantee Harris’s 2022 base salary, a trigger that could be used to inflate Harris’s guarantees in the media.

Also note that an additional 2023 option bonus of $2 million is also added, but it does not have any guarantees triggered to it. But I place it here to also force the Broncos to make a quick decision on Harris in this year.)

Those three types of guarantees bring the total to $37 million, eclipsing the $36.5 million Norman got. However, Harris makes two concessions here in return. First, of course, is the APY. With 2022 and 2023 base salaries at only $6.5 million each, in addition to having to add an extra year to the contract, the full deal comes in at 4 years and $52 million, bumping the APY all the way down to $13 million, equal to Stephon Gilmore. If Harris continues to play at a high level beyond 2021, he may once again feel displeased by what he’s getting paid.

Second is that Harris will have to be patient to receive his money. At no point will his running cash flows, at $25.5 million, $33 million, and $43.5 million, be able to beat Norman or Trumaine Johnson.

Contract C: the cash flow setting deal

YearBase SalaryProrated BonusCap NumberDead MoneyCap Savings

This contracts gets the most cold, hard cash into Harris’s hands in the first two years of the extension. A $20 million signing bonus and a guaranteed 2020 base salary of $7.5 million surpasses the $26 million Johnson got after one year, and $10 million more in 2021 surpasses the $37 million that Norman got after two years.

But Harris risks two things with this deal. One is that his full guarantees are only $27 million, as the Broncos have a way to get out of the $10 million due in 2021. The second is that Harris could have to play for a team-friendly $5.5 million in 2022 if his level of play is still high.

Contract D: short and sweet

YearBase SalaryProrated BonusCap NumberDead MoneyCap Savings

Finally, I’ll throw this simple deal here out for good measure: a two year extension, $28 million in total, fully guaranteed. Harris only gets $14 million APY, and has low cash flow in Year 2, but also reserves another chance at unrestricted free agency. The Broncos also reserve not being tied to Harris for too long if they are uncomfortable with that idea.

* * * *

The above contracts are only a small sampling on how a deal can get done. But regardless of structure, a deal can absolutely get done. If the Broncos and Harris do not get a deal done, it will not be a matter of “can’t”, but a matter of “won’t”.

And if a deal doesn’t get done, and Harris remains adamant in wanting a trade, the Broncos should not yield him for anything less than a 3rd round pick, since a player of his caliber should still be able to fetch a compensatory pick at that level should his 2019 season go as expected.