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Free agent profile: Should the Lions re-sign Will Harris?

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By: Morgan Cannon

Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Will Harris’ versatility is a big reason why the Lions could bring him back in 2024.

The Detroit Lions have 32 total players from their 2023 roster who are set to become free agents in 2024 (20 unrestricted, 6 restricted, 6 exclusive-rights), and we are reviewing their what their expectations were coming into the 2023 season, how they performed, and ultimately their chances of returning to Detroit in 2024.

Here’s a look at our previously written free agent profiles: QB Nate Sudfeld, TE Zach Ertz, WR Josh Reynolds, OG Graham Glasgow, OG Halapoulivaati Vaitai, OG Jonah Jackson, OT Dan Skipper. EDGE Romeo Okwara, DT Tyson Alualu, CB Emmanuel Moseley. WR Donovan Peoples-Jones, and K Michael Badgley.

Next up we have defensive back Will Harris.

Will Harris

Expectations heading into 2023

Originally drafted in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft out of Boston College, Will Harris entered the league as a safety prospect with some high-end physical traits. At 6-foot-1, 206 pounds, Harris possesses both the size and speed to play multiple positions in the secondary.

His versatility as a defender and chops as a special teamer were both reasons why the Lions opted to bring Harris back for a fifth season in 2023, and thanks to a four-year qualifying benefit that takes advantage of CBA rules, it didn’t cost them much to do so.

With the team in a much different place than where they were when coach Dan Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes first took over in 2021, the expectation was now for Harris to serve as depth at cornerback and safety, while also contributing as a core special teams player.

Actual role in 2023

Note: PFF grades combine regular season and playoffs and reflect a minimum 20% snaps at that position

Regular season — 16 games (2 starts): 192 defensive snaps—18 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 interception, 2 pass breakups. 291 special teams snaps
Postseason — 3 games: 3 defensive snaps, 66 special teams snaps
PFF Defensive grade: 43.0 (did not qualify for rankings)
PFF Run Defense grade: 57.1 (DNQ)
PFF Coverage grade: 41.4 (DNQ)
PFF Tackling grade: 58.6 (DNQ)

Save for a few games in which Harris was inserted into the starting lineup due to injuries, things went more or less according to plan for the fifth-year defensive back in 2023.

Most weeks he would only see a handful of defensive snaps, but as mentioned before, Harris was a key player for all of special teams coordinator Dave Fipp’s units (besides field goal).

When he did see the field on defense, it was at a myriad of positions including both outside corner spots, the nickel, and at safety. In the Lions’ Week 6 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Harris logged 39 snaps in the slot, and came up with a timely interception off of a tipped pass—something that is typically the product of being in the right place at the right time as a defender.

Besides the four-week stretch of time when Lions’ rookie defensive back Brian Branch was sidelined due to an ankle sprain against the Green Bay Packers in Week 4, Harris would not log more than five defensive snaps the rest of the season.

Outlook for 2024

Contract status: Unrestricted free agent

The case for keeping Harris:

Despite Harris’ role on defense shrinking since the talent has been upgraded over the last few years, his versatility as a defender is something a lot of teams covet—especially considering that defensive backs have some of the highest injury rates in the sport. Most years it isn’t a matter of if a team will deal with injuries in their secondary, it’s when. At this point, the Lions seriously lack depth in the secondary, and a guy like Harris can cover multiple positions.

With Harris, you get a player who has five years of NFL experience and someone who has started regular season games all over the back end. If a starter misses a few weeks with an injury, Harris is more than capable of stepping in and contributing.

Trust goes a long way in the NFL, and like it or not, this coaching staff trusts Harris.

The case for letting Harris walk:

It may just be that time. I give Harris a ton of credit for expanding his game once he got in the league, as it has been a big reason for him sticking around once the new regime took over. But at 28 years old, the Lions may want to go with a player with more upside moving forward.

If the Lions were to spend a day two or day three pick on an outside cornerback, chances are they would want that player to play a role on special teams while they also developed their skills on defense. A decision like this along with a few moves in free agency would likely make a player like Harris a bit redundant.

Ultimately, this is yet another case of the Lions’ roster progressing past a certain point from a talent perspective.

Is there interest from both sides?

Potentially. Although if you are Harris, there may be interest from other teams that may lead to more guaranteed money or playing time.

Could a team offer him slightly more money and a chance to compete for a starting spot? It’s possible. A team could certainly be up against the salary cap, and in need of an experienced defensive back with plenty of versatility.

With that said, I am sure there is part of Harris that would love to stay in Detroit and see this thing through. Because after the season the Lions just had, who wouldn’t?

What about you? How do you think the Lions should approach Will Harris this offseason? Let us know in the comments below.

Originally posted on Pride Of Detroit