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Free Agent Spotlight: DE, Shelby Harris

Our free agent spotlight series continues with a look at an opportunity to bring in a fresh and more affordable defensive line option should Ndamukong Suh not get resigned

Cleveland Browns v Denver Broncos Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The defensive line is a huge area of focus for the Bucs front office this off season. Although many are anticipating the NFL Draft to be where they pick up some young talent to pair up with Vita Vea, it would behoove the Bucs to also find a veteran that can jump in right away.

In 2020, the Bucs brought in former Jets defensive lineman Steve McLendon to help out when Vita Vea went down for the majority of the season. It panned out for the most part since he was capable of jumping right in and immediately start playing following the trade.

We continue our free agent spotlight series with Denver Broncos defensive end, Shelby Harris.

Shelby Harris’ Career Thus Far

Denver Broncos v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Harris went to Illinois State after initially going to University of Wisconsin where he redshirted his first year. In 2012, he was named to the all-MVFC first team. Although he began playing for the Redbirds in 2010, this was the only year Harris really shined. He racked up seven sacks that year with a total of 85 tackles, 16 of those for loss, six quarterback hurries, a forced fumble, three fumble recoveries, three pass breakups and even an interception.

Harris missed the 2013 season altogether after being released by the Redbirds for conduct detrimental to the team.

He was drafted by the Oakland Raider in the seventh round of the 2017 NFL Draft (235th overall). He signed his rookie contract in May of 2014, waived in early September, then signed to the practice squad two days later. He was then elevated to the active roster in December of the same year, only playing in one game. He continued to repeat that pattern with the Raiders throughout 2015.

After being signed and waived by the New York Jets in 2016, the Dallas Cowboys came knocking to add him to their practice squad, ultimately releasing him in January of 2017. This is when Harris’ career really took flight with the Denver Broncos where he played as a starter for the next four consecutive years.

During his time in Denver, he accrued a total of 154 tackles, 27 of those for loss, 15.5 sacks, 33 QB hits, two forced fumbles, and one interception.

Why It Works

Despite his ups and downs throughout college and his initial years in the league, he ended up playing very well for the Broncos. He had a great first season with them in 2017 where he got 5.5 sacks only bested by teammate Von Miller.

When I compare Harris to a player like William Gholston, he’s more productive and effective infiltrating the pocket and protecting against the run. Comparing 2019, a year they both started, Harris accrued six sacks whereas Gholston only had one. Harris had 49 total tackles, and Gholston had 38.

I completely understand schemes changes and Todd Bowles likes to swap Gholston in and out fairly regularly whereas Harris may be more consistent in Ed Donatell’s 3-4 defense. Which the similar schemes between Donatell and Bowles reflect well on the ease of transition for Shelby Harris. He’s effective and understands the scheme really well and had a lot of success in Denver.

The Bucs are currently dealing with potentially losing three of their defensive linemen: Steve McLendon, Ndamukong Suh, and Rakeem Nunez-Roches. At the very least, they will need the depth and situational components to plug in on demand.


The Broncos have already released Jurrell Casey, who held a critical role in the Bronco’s defense, which means they may be more inclined to retain Harris on their roster.

From a Buccaneers perspective, they should be looking at the NFL Draft heavily to gain young new talent, and looking ahead to the future. Young, nimble, leaner and meaner up front could compliment Bowles’ defense well.

The Bucs should also be concerned with Harris’ knee injury. Still unclear if he’s getting knee surgery, or if it’s even needed, but it should be a concern as it ended the veteran defensive lineman’s 2020 season.

What’s The Cost?

Harris signed a one-year deal last season for $3.25 million, which included a $500,000 signing bonus and $750,000 roster bonus, and $2,000,000 in annual salary. He was having a breakout year last season until COVID and injuries prevailed and ended his season prematurely after 11 games.

According to Spotrac, he played the first two years for the Broncos for under a million making only $615,000 in 2017 and $705,000 in 2018.

NFL: FEB 07 Super Bowl LV - Chiefs v Buccaneers Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Unless he’s willing to take less, Suh’s value right now is worth $6,848,511. McLendon signed a one-year deal last season earning him $3,000,000. They could sign Harris to a two-year deal in the ballpark of $2,000,000 with incentives, or perhaps even less if he’s eager to chase a championship. May be a decent value for a veteran player, and if the Bucs don’t make it work with Suh or McLendon, it may free up some cap space to pay other key areas.

What We Don’t Know

We don’t know how that knee is doing. Does Harris require surgery or not?

We’re also not sure if Suh or McLendon will agree to take less. Suh seemed fairly eager on social media to make a return regardless. A lot still yet to be determined with the current roster.

We also don’t know if the Bucs want to focus on the draft or not for their next defensive lineman. Zac Blobner of 95.3 WDAE/AM 620 Tampa is confident that it should be a primary focus.

Harris has had a lot of ups and downs, and the Bucs may not know which Shelby Harris they’ll be getting in 2021 and beyond. There are a lot of good options out there, so Licht and his scouting staff have their work cut out for them as the defensive line will likely be a primary focus for them.

Make The Decision

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Denver Broncos Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Harris has had a lot of ups and downs in his career. He seemed to right the ship in Denver, and incrementally became one of the more dominant defensive ends in the league. He was shorted in 2020 with COVID and a knee injury, but his past two years have proven he has the right stuff.

The defensive line is a critical area of focus for Jason Licht and the front office staff. Put yourself in their shoes. What would you do when considering Shelby Harris coming to Tampa Bay?


When it comes to Melvin Ingram III, what would you have the Buccaneers do?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    Sign him, no matter what
    (8 votes)
  • 30%
    Make an offer, but keep it reasonable
    (105 votes)
  • 19%
    invite him for a cup of coffee and see where it goes
    (67 votes)
  • 23%
    Call him up if they still have a need after the draft
    (82 votes)
  • 24%
    Don’t need him
    (86 votes)
348 votes total Vote Now