Dec 16, 2014 4:25 AM

Undrafted Chris Harris now paid like elite cornerback

The Associated Press

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) The photo emblazoned on the front of Chris Harris Jr.'s navy sweat shirt was a tribute to his favorite Denver Broncos cornerback himself, of course.

And the "No fly zone" caption underneath the image was fitting, too, since his side of the field has certainly become restricted air space, with QBs shying away from him.

Still, Harris' cover skills fly under the radar, hardly mentioned in the same breath as other elite defensive backs around the league. But he certainly got paid like one last week when the Broncos rewarded him with a five-year contract extension worth $42.5 million.

That's actually a hometown discount for an organization that took a chance on the undrafted college free agent out of Kansas in 2011. Had Harris hit free agency in the offseason, he would've earned more.

Just ask him.

"I definitely could have gotten more off the open market," laughed the 25-year-old Harris, who had his wife and infant daughter in the audience Monday at a news conference to announce his extension. "I know that, we all know that, but it's not all about money at the end of the day. It's about being happy, and I'm satisfied."

Well, satisfied everywhere but on the field, anyway. Because he plays with an attitude after going undrafted, which he thinks is the root cause as to why he doesn't receive as much recognition as, say, a Richard Sherman or a Darrelle Revis or even his teammate in Denver and at Kansas Aqib Talib.

This could be the season where Harris gains more notoriety, though, possibly make his first Pro Bowl team. He's having that kind of year for the AFC West champion Broncos (11-3), with three interceptions and a team-leading 15 passes defended in limited chances.

"I always thought once you get your contract, I think that's when the accolades and all that stuff comes," said Harris, the protege of recently retired and future Hall of Famer Champ Bailey. "But I think people are still going to see me as an underrated player just because of my size and the way I came into the league.

"That's just something where I know my whole career I'm going to have to deal with that."

Broncos boss John Elway certainly saw something in him. And after only a handful of practices, too.

"He stood out and I said, 'We have something here,' Elway recounted. "Since he's been here, he's shown what he can do."

Especially last season, when he turned in a standout season before tearing his left ACL in the Broncos' divisional playoff against the Chargers. He watched the Super Bowl from the sideline and then underwent surgery.

He was back in less than seven months. Hasn't missed a step, either.

"Chris just has something in his head and his heart he don't like to lose," Talib said. "He's one of the most competitive guys I've ever come across in my life."

The Broncos have now made quite an investment in their secondary, locking up Harris and Talib to the tune of nearly $100 million.

A hefty price, but necessary in this quarterback-savvy league.

"The passing game's a big part of the game right now and so you can't have enough good cover guys," Elway said. "To be able to have two guys like we have in Aqib and now Chris under contract, it's very, very important."

Next up for Elway is working out deals for receiver Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas. Looming on the horizon is hybrid linebacker Von Miller as well.

"We're hoping that we can get everybody," Elway said. "It's never going to be easy, but Chris was the target to start with and we were thankful to get that done, so we hope that we can continue to do that and keep this team together.

"I'm happy for guys like Chris. I'm happy for him because he's the type of guy you want around, a great competitor, tough. It just gives him confidence to know what we think of him but also know that he's got that ability to step up and be that kind of leader."


AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton contributed to this report.


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