The Denver Broncos didn't take the biggest step in protecting cornerback Chris Harris Jr. from any interested suitors, but they did place the second-highest tender available on the restricted free agent.
Harris Jr. will have a one-year deal worth $2.187 million in 2014. Other teams can still sign him to an offer sheet, but the Broncos have the right to match any offers. If Denver did not match any offers for Harris Jr., the Broncos would receive a second-round pick in return from the team that signed him.
Harris Jr. is recovering from ACL surgery -- the ligament was not completely torn, however -- and the Broncos are optimistic he will contribute in the 2014 season. A player who originally made the team as an undrafted rookie in 2011, Harris Jr. has progressed into the most versatile defensive back on the roster, having played both in the slot and on the outside.
His coaches consistently laud his competitiveness and ability match up with both speed receivers and the bigger, more physical receivers as well. And if his recovery stays on track the Broncos are expected to work toward a longer-term deal for Harris Jr. after next season when he will be eligible to be an unrestricted free agent.
If Harris Jr. was not coming off knee surgery and was unquestionably going to be ready for the entire 2014 season the Broncos would have likely had to consider using the highest tender on him -- a one-year deal worth $3.113 million that carries a first-round pick as compensation.
The Broncos also placed a one-year, $1.431 million tender on defensive tackle Mitch Unrein, who is a restricted free agent as well. That tender comes with “original-round'' compensation, but since Unrein signed as an undrafted rookie when he entered the NFL the Broncos would not receive any compensation if they did not match any offer sheets Unrein were to receive.
The Broncos have also filed the paperwork on a one-year, $730,000 deal for cornerback Tony Carter for the '14 season.
The Broncos did not place a tender on kickoff returner Trindon Holliday as an exclusive rights free agent, so Holliday will free to sign with other teams when free agency opens Tuesday. It also means the Broncos are formally on the hunt for kickoff and punt returners.
Holliday had a roller-coaster ride in just under two seasons with the Broncos. He had six touchdown returns in 29 games with the Broncos, playoffs included. He had two kickoff returns and two punt returns for scores in regular-season games. In the playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens to close out the 2012 season he had a punt return and kickoff return for touchdowns.
But he also struggled to handle the ball at times. He muffed seven kickoffs or punts combined this past season and had limited impact down the stretch.