A new starting cornerback is coming to the Mile High City, and it could just mean the end of an era for a four-time Pro Bowler.
The Denver Broncos have reportedly agreed to trade their fourth-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft to the Jacksonville Jaguars in exchange for cornerback A.J. Bouye, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Wednesday afternoon. The deal cannot be processed until the new league year begins on March 18, but the known cost of Bouye’s contract — about $13.5 million in each of the next two seasons — does seem to hurt the outlook of the Broncos bringing back one of their top pending free agents.
Cornerback Chris Harris Jr. has spent the past nine seasons with the Broncos as a steady piece of their secondary, making four Pro Bowl teams and earning three All-Pro selections. He started all 16 games in 2019 for the Broncos and played 99 percent of defensive snaps, proving he still possesses the endurance to compete at a high level.
The Broncos agreed to let Harris test the market this offseason with him set to become an unrestricted free agent, and it didn’t take long for the 30-year-old to attract attention from other teams. Harris’ representation has reportedly been in contact with 28 different teams, including the Dallas Cowboys and Las Vegas Raiders, which could result in a bidding war to procure his talents.
With Bouye offering a start-now option, the Broncos could pretty easily stay out of the conversation and let Harris walk with whichever team offers him the best fit for the 2020 season.
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Broncos Deeply Committed to Secondary
Bouye is now the third-highest-paid player on the Broncos’ roster with a cap hit of about $13.4 million on the books for the 2020 season, but he isn’t their only major investment in the secondary.
The Broncos have more than $21 million more tied up in deals with strong safety Kareem Jackson ($14 million) and cornerback Bryce Callahan ($7.8 million), while a projected franchise tag for safety Justin Simmons is said to be worth about $12.7 million. If all goes as planned, the Broncos will return a stout core of starters to their secondary with Bouye sliding in as the missing piece.
At this point, there isn’t much a decision left regarding Harris. He negotiated a restructured contract with the Broncos to up his 2019 earnings from $8.9 million to $12 million and would likely be looking for a similar price point to be kept around for the future. That’s just not realistic for someone who would likely be relegated to a backup role. Even if he pushes his way into the starting lineup, someone on the roster would be getting paid too much to do too little.
At least Harris seems to recognize the writing on the wall. He offered a classy response after news of the trade broke Tuesday afternoon and tweeted “wish you luck” to Bouye; though, it’s a little easier when the future is bright ahead in free agency.