Broncos defensive tackle Shelby Harris is going to get paid this offseason. Harris shined in his contract year and is about to be rewarded for his efforts.
Many in Broncos Country would welcome him back. Harris has not only played well, but he’s played well in big moments.
He blocked a field goal to beat the Chargers on “Monday Night Football.” Everybody remembers his game-ending interception of Ben Roethlisberger in the end zone. And Harris ended the 2019 season with a two-point conversion disruption against the Raiders that gave the Broncos the win against their rivals.
Harris can make an offensive’s life miserable like he did against Minnesota this past season. He has also proven to be adaptable by having success under two different defensive-minded head coaches in Vance Joseph and Vic Fangio.
Now that he’s a free agent, it seems cut and dry that the Broncos should do what they can to re-sign Harris. History tells us they probably won’t.
Shelby Harris is going to make a lot of money; it just likely won’t be in the orange and blue. John Elway has been tasked multiple times with retaining stand out defensive tackles, only to let them walk in free agency.
Elway joined the Broncos as an executive in 2011. The Broncos were coming off a 4-12 season. Defensive tackle was one of the Broncos top priorities in the free agency period that followed the lock out.
The Broncos signed former Patriots interior defensive lineman Ty Warren. Due to multiple injuries, Warren would never play a down for the Broncos.
The Broncos would also make a trade with the Eagles for a defensive tackle named Brodrick Bunkley.
Bunkley spent his first five up-and-down seasons in Philadelphia. With the Broncos, Bunkley anchored an interior defensive line that allowed the Broncos defense to return to prominence. While everybody was focused on Tim Tebow in 2011, it was the Broncos defense that was the key factor in the Broncos ending a five-year playoff drought.
Following the 2011 season, the Broncos allowed Bunkley to leave in free agency. He played a major role in rejuvenating the Broncos defense, yet they were unwilling to pay him top dollar. Bunkley would sign a five-year, $25 Million deal with the Saints.
Bunkley’s replacement showed up in 2013. He was nicknamed “Pot Roast.”
Terrance Knighton was a former third-round pick of the Jaguars and signed with the Broncos in the 2013 offseason. Knighton was one of the playoff heroes for the Broncos during their 2013 run to the Super Bowl. His performance was highlighted by his memorable sack of Tom Brady in the AFC Championship Game.
Despite his playoff brilliance and solid 2014 campaign, the Broncos opted to not bring back Knighton after the 2014 season. Knighton’s market and value in free agency was overstated and misread. The expectation was he would receive a large multi-year deal. Instead, he signed a one-year contract with the Redskins; within two seasons, he was out of the NFL.
The Broncos decision to not re-sign Knighton proved to be the correct one because they had a young defensive tackle poised to break out named Malik Jackson. Jackson was a former Broncos fifth-round pick.
Jackson was an enforcer on the Broncos defense during the team’s run to a Super Bowl title in 2015. Jackson single-handedly forced the Browns out of field goal range in overtime during a game that season. His aggressive and bullying style would continually intimidate opponents. Jackson’s season would culminate when he scored a touchdown in Super Bowl 50.
Jackson and defensive tackle Derek Wolfe were both free agents at the end of the 2015 season. The Broncos were able to extend Wolfe, while Jackson was allowed to test free agency. Wolfe took a hometown discount and is believed to have signed for less than he would have received on the market. Jackson signed a contract with the Jaguars with $31.5 million guaranteed.
Bunkley helped the Broncos get back to the playoffs. Knighton helped the Broncos get back to the Super Bowl. Jackson helped the Broncos win a Super Bowl. All three players played major roles in the Broncos getting over hurdles and returning to being a championship organization.
Not one of the three received a second contract from the Broncos.
Shelby Harris has been the most-recent breakout defensive tackle that has shined in a Broncos uniform. Harris is also an example on why the Elway and the Broncos may opt to not re-sign him.
For all the criticisms leveled at Elway the general manager, he has continually managed to find hidden gems at the defensive tackle position. Bunkley and Knighton were castoffs from other teams, while Jackson was a fifth-round pick. Much like Bunkley and Knighton, Harris had been discarded prior coming to Denver. He was also a player that was ready to break out; he just needed the right situation. Harris’s play has exceeded that of Bunkley and Knighton, so his new contract should be one of the largest in the NFL for his position.
Since Elway returned to the Broncos, Wolfe is the only stand out defensive tackle that has been extended. Every other top defensive tackle has left via free agency. Elway likely believes he will be able to find another tackle for much less than it will cost to re-sign Harris.
Elway did attempt to sign Calais Campbell following the 2016 season. The Jaguars would successfully out bid the Broncos for the Pro Bowl player’s services. While he did pursue Campbell, Elway ultimately had a number he would not exceed.
Oddly enough, Shelby Harris is the reason the Broncos won’t re-sign Shelby Harris. The Broncos continued ability to find value with defensive tackles like Harris will preclude them from paying big money to that position.
Shelby Harris has earned the right to become one of the highest paid players at his position; it just won’t be in Denver.