ENGLEWOOD – John Elway insists he isn’t mad at star cornerback Chris Harris Jr. for skipping Denver’s offseason program, and he reiterated that he’ll address his contract demands after this weekend’s NFL draft.
“I said we’re going to talk about it,” Elway stressed Tuesday. “It doesn’t mean we’re going to do it.”
That didn’t sit well with Harris, who told The Associated Press in a text Tuesday night that he wants to be traded if Elway doesn’t give him an extension.
“Yep, been disrespected too many times. In the media,” Harris texted several hours after Elway’s comments.
It’s the first time Harris has publicly discussed a desire to leave Denver should things not work out.
Harris, a perennial Pro Bowler who turns 30 in June, is due $7.8 million in 2019, the final season of a team-friendly, five-year, $42.5 million contract he signed in 2015.
Elway signed two defensive backs in free agency, including Kareem Jackson to a three-year deal that averages $11 million a season.
Asked why he’s waiting to address Harris’ deal, Elway said, “I don’t have time right now. I’m busy with the draft.”
Elway also said at his pre-draft news conference that he’s not upset with Harris for working out on his own in Dallas while new head coach Vic Fangio installs a new defense in Denver.
“It’s voluntary,” Elway said. “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.”
That was in stark contrast to his take back when wide receiver Demaryius Thomas boycotted the team’s offseason program while another new coach, Gary Kubiak, was busy installing his offense.
During his pre-draft news conference in 2015, Elway said, “I see absolutely zero value of him being away from here.”
Thomas ended up signing a $70 million contract in July. And Elway was right, it took Thomas a while to get his wind back and his timing down with Peyton Manning that season, which ended with a win over Carolina in Super Bowl 50.
Harris has 19 interceptions and 80 pass breakups in eight NFL seasons. He’s the only defensive back with multiple interceptions in each of the past seven seasons.
Waiting to address his contract opens the possibility that another team could make a trade offer during the draft for the last remaining member of the “No Fly Zone” secondary.
“I haven’t even thought about that, so no,” Elway said when asked if he could foresee any scenario in which he’d deal Harris. “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 demurred when asked about selecting a quarterback high in the draft, and he said his offseason acquisition of former Ravens QB Joe Flacco doesn’t necessarily mean he’s down on this year’s QB class.
“No, we had an opportunity to add Joe, and so we thought he’d be a good fit for us,” Elway said. “We thought the price was right and so we’re happy to have Joe.”
While Von Miller suggested Elway draft Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins, Flacco suggested Elway bypass QBs in the first round altogether unless he’s the understood starter and select someone who can help the Broncos win now, not down the road.
“I’m glad he said that. I like that, I understand that,” Elway said. “That’s what you want from your guy that is your starting quarterback right now. You want him to have that mentality.”
Elway was in a similar spot in 1992 when Dan Reeves drafted Tommy Maddux much to Elway’s chagrin.
Elway said he was standing at the baggage carrousel at the old Stapleton International Airport “and we needed a wideout.”
When he found out the pick was a quarterback, “I said, ‘Oh, (Carl) Pickens must have been gone,’” Elway recounted. “He didn’t go until the second round.”
Elway was upset.
“Sure, yeah,” Elway said. “How’d that work out?”
Not great for Reeves (fired) or Maddox (0-4 in two years in Denver). But just fine for Elway, who capped his Hall of Fame career as a back-to-back Super Bowl champion.
Elway recently said Flacco is still in his prime at age 34, an assessment that would seem to indicate he won’t be looking for his quarterback of the future just yet.
Elway did say he’ll add a fourth QB to the group of Flacco, Garrett Grayson and Kevin Hogan by training camp, however, maybe a late-round flyer or a veteran free agent, even if that means none of the four are homegrown.
“I want good quarterbacks in that room, however we get them,” Elway said, “whether I draft them or trade for them or we get one on the street.”