Carlton Davis III, Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean appear to have the makings of a really good trio of cornerbacks for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Jordan Whitehead made a very strong case for him to have the strong-safety spot locked down. But what about the free-safety position?
In 2019, Andrew Adams and Mike Edwards essentially split duties at the position. Adams finished with 627 snaps on defense while Edwards (who also filled in as a slot defender at times) finished with 637.
By years end, it seemed the coaching staff favored Adams, who is an unrestricted free-agent in 2020. Edwards is entering his second-season in the NFL, so the team has him under contract, but beyond him there are questions.
One of those questions could be answered if the team pursues Minnesota Vikings free-safety, Anthony Harris. Don’t know him? Let’s get acquainted.
ANTHONY HARRIS’ CAREER THUS FAR
Undrafted out of Virginia, Lance Zierlein of NFL.com gave Harris a 3-4 Round grade ahead of the 2015 NFL Draft. Injury concerns are rumored to be part of the reason Harris went undrafted that year, but since joining the Minnesota Vikings, he’s grown into a valuable part of their defense and has played in fourteen or more games in each of the past four seasons.
In 2019, Harris started fourteen games for the Vikings and hauled in six interceptions while defending another eleven passes. He also appeared in both playoff games for the team this year, and had one interception to go with his 20 tackles.
He’s climbed the ladder in Minnesota, and has landed squarely on the top level of the NFL’s most sought after free-agents as both Pro Football Focus and the NFL’s own websites call Harris one of the top players in this year’s market.
Will he end up back with the Vikings? It’s a possibility. But if not, he’ll hit the open market looking for a new team and a new opportunity to show he can help lead a defense to the post-season.
WHY IT WORKS
Say it with me: Versatility. Anthony Harris is a free-safety by definition, but the man covers and tackles, and he does both well. Of his 180 career tackles, 127 of those have come as solo tackles. And he has nine career interceptions despite severely limited playing time on defense in his first three seasons.
Then there’s his intelligence, in many of his interceptions from 2019, Harris’ football IQ presents itself. Knowing where the receiver is likely to go, and knowing how an offense likes to attack in certain situations is a big part of being a successful defender. Todd Bowles’ system requires a lot of communication, and communication without knowledge is empty.
In 2019, Harris intercepted Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, twice. On both plays, Harris was able to read where the ball was likely to go and not only react in time, but get to the ball before either of Ryan’s targets could.
One of those interceptions came in the end zone, and helped his team secure a 28-12 opening week victory which helped propel the Vikings to a 6-2 start.
He’s only been doing it for one year, and is now about to be perhaps the most sought after safety on the open market. This means inflation by negotiation. The more demand for this one supplier, the more expensive it could get.
And, there’s the question of competition. Obviously Harris is no stranger to competition. But given the choice between joining the Buccaneers for the chance to beat out Mike Edwards and whomever else is on the roster for a starting job, or going to ‘Team B’ where they are bringing him in to be the starter, which would you choose?
Bruce Arians has said he wants competition across the board. While some teams, like Minnesota themselves, seem primed to basically guarantee Harris a day one starting role. If the money is similar, and the opportunities are different, then opportunity might rule the day on this one.
WHAT’S THE COST?
It’s hard to tell. We’ve speculated about the safety market before and been proven wrong in shocking ways. Spotrac.com estimates Harris to be looking at around $14M per year on a five year deal.
Harris is turning 29 in June, and this type of contract puts him in the neighborhood of guys like Eddie Jackson (Chicago Bears), Tyrann Mathieu (Kansas City Chiefs), and Earl Thomas (Baltimore Ravens).
Steep numbers, but worth it if you feel Harris can secure the back end of your defense.
WHAT WE DON’T KNOW
Honestly, we don’t know how the team feels about Mike Edwards heading into 2020, and what the future holds for Andrew Adams. It’s entirely possible the Bucs try to bring back Adams with the opportunity for earning the same or more playing time as he did in 2019.
And we don’t know what Harris wants. He’s proven that he’s a fighter who can overcome the odds. Going from undrafted free-agent to starting free-safety on a playoff team in five years is on small feat.
But nobody would blame him if he felt he’s earned the right not to fight again. Earned the opportunity to walk into training camp as the guy at his position. If he wants that, he may not get it in Tampa.
Although, if you’re entertaining the possibility of signing a guy to a $13M+ contract, he’s got to enter camp as your starter, at a minimum.
MAKE THE DECISION
It seems to me, signing Harris makes him the starter to begin training camp, and that Mike Edwards would have to have one hell of a pre-season to unseat the 29-year old. So I guess, this decision comes down to whether or not you want a bonafide starter, or competition with the youngster getting an equal shot at getting the job.
Not an easy decision, but one for you to make. What would you do?
When it comes to Anthony Harris, the Buccaneers need to...
This poll is closed
Sign him, no matter what.
Make an offer, but keep it reasonable.
Invite him for a cup of coffee and see where it goes from there.
Call him up if we have a need after the draft.
Don’t need him.
*According to spotrac.com