As the combine comes to a close, the next thing on the minds of team executives is the start of free agency. The “legal tampering” start of free agency isn’t until March 8, with negotiations allowed to occur between teams and players with no official deals in place, but conversations between teams and agents happen every year at the combine. As most of the unrestricted free agents get talked about, the small group of restricted free agents usually gets forgotten or pushed aside — sometimes by their own teams. There are some reasons for that; it’s rare for very good players to be in the position to be restricted free agents and those that are, tend to receive a first-round tender, dissuading other teams from making an offer and losing a first-round pick. There is one restricted free agent this year, though, the San Diego Chargers should not ignore, Denver Broncos cornerback, Chris Harris Jr.
Let’s first go through a quick primer on restricted free agency. A restricted free agent is a player at the end of a contract with three accrued seasons of service — most rookie deals for high draft picks are for four years, making it less common for coveted players to be RFAs. There are three types of tenders a team can place on its own RFA, each with varying one-year salaries and draft pick compensation attached. Any team has the right to negotiate with another team’s RFA, but the player’s original team has the right of a five-day window to match any contract offer and if the contract is matched, the player will stay with the terms of the offered contract. If the original team decides not to match the offer, the new team is awarded the player on the terms of the offered contract, but must surrender a draft pick, corresponding to the type of tender given by the original club — usually a first or second-round pick.
It’s not a secret to anyone watching the NFL in 2013, the Chargers have a weakness in the secondary, specifically at cornerback. Approximately 97 percent of the mock drafts you will read from now until May 8 will have San Diego taking a cornerback in the first round. The Chargers, though, could be in a better position if they first try to steal Harris away from the Broncos.
The 24-year-old Harris was great for Denver in 2013, leading every Broncos defensive player in playing time by playing over 92 percent of the defensive snaps. Harris was the only Broncos defender to be on the field for over 1,000 snaps during the season and he saw his role increase as he stepped in for an injured/ineffective Champ Bailey. Harris, though, suffered a torn ACL in the AFC Divisional Game against San Diego in the playoffs. Most San Diego fans will remember Harris’ injury allowed Philip Rivers to pick on Quentin Jammer and bring the Chargers back in the game.
Harris, from the most recent reports on his injury, is ahead of schedule in his rehab. The news on his free agency lean towards the Broncos giving him a second-round tender. A first-round tender would have been likely if he wasn’t coming off this type of injury and that tender would offer a one-year contract for about $3 million. Instead, a second-round tender would only be worth about $2.1 million for the upcoming season. For any team wanting to make an offer to Harris, the difference between having to give up a first- or second-round pick could be significant.