Denver Broncos Pro Bowl cornerback Chris Harris Jr. had made his desire for a new contract clear to team officials already this offseason, but less than 48 hours before the 2019 NFL draft begins, Harris has formally informed the Broncos he wants to be traded if the team doesn’t give him that new deal, sources told ESPN on Tuesday night.
The ninth-year cornerback, who made the Broncos’ roster as an undrafted rookie in 2011, is set to enter the final year of his current contract.
Harris has not attended the team’s offseason program — which is voluntary — including the team’s first minicamp last week.
Broncos president of football operations/general manager John Elway was asked earlier Tuesday, at the team’s pre-draft media gathering, about the potential for a new deal for Harris or a trade of the four-time Pro Bowl selection.
“I haven’t even thought about that, so no,” Elway said. “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.”
Elway was also asked about Harris staying away from the team’s offseason program and said: “It’s voluntary. They’re welcome to — it’s voluntary. We appreciate all of the other guys that are here that don’t have to be here. I really appreciate them being here voluntarily and working on their game.”
Harris — who turns 30 in June — is now in the final year of a five-year, $42.5 million deal he signed in 2015 and would be an unrestricted free agent after the 2019 season. He has made no secret he is seeking a contract extension.
Earlier this offseason, he said: “It’s late in my career and I can’t waste any years anymore. It’s time for me to win. I always wanted to retire here and finish my career here, but I’m ready to see what changes and things we do.”
Harris’ value, as a defensive back who can line up in the slot, on the outside or even play safety if needed, was easy to see this past season. The Broncos had clawed their way back to 6-6 last season with a Dec. 2 victory at Cincinnati.
But Harris suffered a fractured lower leg in the game. He missed the final four games of the season, the Broncos lost all four to finish 6-10, and coach Vance Joseph and most of Joseph’s staff were fired the day after the regular season ended.
Harris worked diligently during the team’s fade down the stretch and said “I definitely could have played” the regular-season finale — Dec. 30 against the Los Angeles Chargers — if the Broncos had remained in the playoff race. Harris did play in the Pro Bowl.
Last week, Broncos defensive coordinator Ed Donatell said Harris would fit the team’s new defensive scheme whenever he arrived for the offseason workouts, minicamp or training camp.
“I think he’s really easy to fit in 11-on-11 football because he’s so competitive and so tough,” Donatell said. “He can win his matchups, and so we’re excited to get him back.”
Elway has said on multiple occasions — including at the league’s scouting combine in February, the league meetings in March and again Tuesday — that he would like to try to work out a new deal for Harris after the draft. Harris’ representatives and Elway did meet at the combine.
Harris, who has played in 123 games over the past eight seasons, is not expected to report to the team, however, without a new deal. He is the last remaining defensive back from the team’s “No Fly Zone” secondary that was a key part of the team’s defense on the way to a Super Bowl 50 win.
The offseason workouts, per the league’s collective bargaining agreement, are voluntary. The only part of the offseason work Harris could be fined for missing is the team’s mandatory minicamp in June.
Callahan, who played for Donatell and new head coach Vic Fangio with the Bears, has been used in Fangio’s defense in a role similar to the one Harris has played with the Broncos at times.
“We want him to help the other players, and he’s an extension of us,” Donatell said of Callahan’s experience in the defense. “We’ve been teaching him for four years now, so he’ll help the other guys and he’ll answer questions. It gives us a chance to look at other guys when he’s not in there, and that’s why when we were down corners, we just got to look at some other guys to help our depth.”
And on Callahan’s skill set, Donatell said last week: “He really has good speed, change of direction, balance, excellent ball skills, a really, really good leaper. He can really process fast on the field.”