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How Xavien Howard’s new deal impacts Chris Harris Jr.

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Broncos general manager John Elway wanted to wait until after the draft to begin negotiations with All-Pro cornerback Chris Harris Jr. Well, the 2019 NFL Draft is well in the rearview mirror and it’s about time for the tough work to begin.

At times, this situation seemed dire between the two sides. There were rumblings about Harris wanting a deal that pays him more than Redskins cornerback Josh Norman, who pockets $15 million annually. There was also buzz about Harris wanting to be traded if the Broncos did not meet his demands.

Now, things seem to have calmed down.

Harris has said that “things can be salvaged” between the two sides and Elway is set to begin exchanging contract proposals perhaps at the end of the week.

That will be a positive sign, but there is also the possibility that Harris won’t get a deal he’s satisfied with, especially after the Dolphins signed cornerback Xavien Howard to a deal even greater (in terms of annual average salary) than Norman’s.

Let’s take a look inside the numbers of Howard’s record-setting extension for a corner and see if there’s a structure the Broncos can follow to make Harris happy.


Always Look at the Guarantees

Howard just signed a five-year, $76.5 million extension with the Dolphins, and those are certainly eye-popping numbers. However, the real number to look at is the guaranteed money at signing and the guaranteed money in the life of the contract. Doing so can show you that Howard’s deal is not all it’s cracked up to be.

At first glance, Howard’s deal contains $46 million in guarantees. A closer look reveals the full guarantee at signing is $27.18 million. Part of the discrepancy in these numbers is the way the contract is structured. Howard’s full salary for the 2021 season will actually become fully guaranteed on the fifth day of the 2020 league year.

The Dolphins could choose to get rid of Howard after just one year and avoid paying the rest of those guarantees, roster bonuses and workout bonuses. If Howard hits all his bonuses and guarantees, he will beat the annual average salary of Norman by $50,000 per year. Right now, Howard’s deal is worth $12.75 million per season at signing. That’s a big difference when you look further into the contract numbers.

The perception is that Howard got a deal that bested Norman’s contract. The reality is that he took a very good deal, one that could pay off big time if he stays healthy and continues to play at a high level to earn all those bonuses.


No Tag Please

The franchise tag is in place for teams to keep their best players, while giving the two sides a bit more time to come to a long-term agreement. That’s what it should be used for, but that’s not always what teams follow.

The Broncos need to avoid using the franchise tag on Harris in 2020.

Next season, the estimated franchise tag for a cornerback is going to be a one-year, fully guaranteed $16 million. That’s a starting point for any corner that is tagged at that amount. Sure, the Broncos could have Harris on a year-to-year basis with the tag (you can franchise tag a player for three consecutive years), but it would come at a great cost.

The team needs to sign Harris to a long-term deal instead of using other means to keep him on the team. That means getting something done in the near future to avoid the allure of free agency. The Broncos can’t use the tag on Harris next offseason and they can’t let this contract situation linger too far towards the regular season.

One this is certain: The price for elite corners is not going to go down in the future.

There’s a tipping point for Harris, and he might decide to bet on himself for one more year so he can hit the open market in 2020.


Support From His Teammates

Harris is one of the most-popular players in the locker room, and he’s an example for Broncos of any draft status as to what happens with hard work and dedication pay off. The 2011 NFL Draft was a pretty good one for Denver. Things began with Von Miller at No. 2 overall and then ended with Harris as an undrafted free agent.

After practice on Monday, Miller showed full support for his nine-year teammate.

“I feel for Chris. You want to take care of guys like that. Guys like Chris Harris who have done it all, really hit all of the checkmarks and all of the boxes, you want to take care of guys like. He deserves it 100 percent.” Miller said.

No. 58 is correct, Harris is a fine player on the field and a fantastic man at home and off the field in the community.


What Does This Mean for Harris?

The Broncos could follow the path of the Howard contract to make Harris happy if they want to – and make no mistake about it, they always have the money. Salary cap be damned, a team just has to want to pay a player in order to get it done.

It may take what I call “salary-cap gymnastics” to get a deal done with Harris, but I think he’s the type of player you bend over backwards to keep.

The Broncos have Mike Sullivan as their “capologist” and he’s known as one of the toughest negotiators in the league. He used to be an agent with Octagon Sports and was respectively described as a “bulldog” by other agents. Sullivan knows how to be creative to get a deal done, and there are ways to make both sides happy.

This deal isn’t just about getting things right with Harris. This is about sending a message to the rest of the team and potential free agents in the future who want to sign with Denver.

If you do things the “Broncos Way,” you will get rewarded. Harris is the perfect example of what a player needs to be in the pros and how talent can come from anywhere.

Taking care of Harris means you’re doing business the right way.