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Evaluation of Chris Harris, Jr.’s 2019 Pay Raise

After considerable negotiation during the spring, the Broncos and Chris Harris, Jr. came to an agreement that will raise his pay in 2019, with no extension of his contract? What did they agree to, and what should we make of this renegotiation?

The facts of the renegotiation

Per Mike Klis, Harris will see his pay raised as follows:

  • $650,000 reporting bonus to today’s OTA
  • $600,000 reporting bonus to training camp
  • $2 million raise in base salary (from $7.8 million to $9.8 million)

This sums up to $3.25 million, but because Harris forfeited a $100,000 workout bonus for failing to participate in earlier OTAs, his net gain in pay in 2019 is $3.15 million, putting his total compensation at $12.05 million. This comes right in between his previous amount of $8.9 million, and the reported $15 million per year that Harris may have been seeking.

Vic Lombardi also reports that the renegotiation includes a clause that forbids the Broncos from using the franchise tag on Harris. However, that report has been disputed, so it is unclear as of now whether Harris will have a clear path to unrestricted free agency for the first time in his career.

The Broncos are essentially paying $3.15 million for contractual peace with Harris in only 2019.

The effect that this pay raise has is to ensure that Harris will not continue his holdout through any more of 2019. It’s worth explaining what Harris could have done if an agreement could not be reached:

  • Harris could have held out of mandatory minicamp. Art. 42, Ex. A of the Collective Bargaining Agreement allows for fines of up to $88,650 in 2019. Hardly a notable amount for Harris.
  • Harris could have held out of training camp. The same clause of the CBA allows for daily fines up to $40,000. For example, if Harris missed the first two weeks of training camp before the first preseason game, he could have lost $560,000.
  • Harris could have held out of preseason games. At that point, the fines ramp up to the equivalent of one game check from base salary. For Harris that would have been $458,824. If the Hall of Fame Game counts as a preseason game then there’s more at stake.
  • Harris could have held out of regular season games. The game check forfeitures would have continued, though he would have to end the holdout at some point before his contract would toll.

Thus, any holdout into and beyond August would have been quite costly for Harris. Only he could determine for himself whether or not that would be worth his goals. But instead, Harris has succeeded in gaining more money from the Broncos. And assurance for participation in 2019 is all the Broncos are getting for that payment.

Reports indicate that the Broncos and Harris attempted to negotiate beyond 2019, but could not come to an agreement. But in my opinion, the Broncos should have secured some sort of number for 2020 in exchange for this pay raise. If the numbers were still quite divergent, plenty of clauses could have been inserted to cancel the 2020 year, such as a team option, a player option, or a void that triggers if Harris achieves certain performance metrics.

While this only addresses 2019, the future beyond that is not clear.

Despite failing to assure any relationship beyond 2020, John Elway mentioned in his statement that it would not be ruled out. And certainly giving him a $3.15 million raise now will be a show of good faith that a future extension can’t be ruled out.

If the Broncos are allowed to use the franchise tag, that could be a simple way to effectively give Harris a one year extension if they are concerned about his long term play. Tagging Harris would not be cheap: Over The Cap currently projects it to be around $16.5 million, well above the $15 million APY that’s been regularly cited, and it would also prevent the Broncos from tagging any of their other pending 2020 UFAs, should any of them be worthy of it. However, a multiyear extension is likely going to guarantee Harris more than $16.5 million if his play remains worthy of a possible franchise tag anyway.

And if Harris does end up leaving Denver, the Broncos will likely plan on receiving a 3rd round compensatory pick for him in 2021. Such a comp pick would likely be a 3rd rounder, as the 3th/4th round cutoff for 2020 is likely to be about $11 million APY, and if Harris can’t get more than $12 million APY on the open market then the Broncos should heavily consider extending him at that rate.