The reigning champion Denver Broncos had a number of key contributors to re-sign this offseason, and a few were bound to slip through their grasp. Veteran offensive tackle Ryan Harris was one such player.
Troy Renck of the Denver Post reported it's a two-year, $3.9 million deal. Renck noted Harris was a "stabilizing force" for the Broncos last season.
The Broncos selected Harris in the third round of the 2007 draft, and he spent his first four years in the league in the Mile High City. Then, after spells with the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans, the 31-year-old ended up back in Denver on a one-year deal for the 2015 season in late May after Ryan Clady's season-ending injury.
With Clady out of action, Harris was forced to move from right tackle to the left side of the line, and his performance suffered as a result. Pro Football Focus graded him the 53rd-best tackle in the league in 2015. Denver also fell from first in pass protection in 2014, per Football Outsiders, to 13th last year.
Still, Harris was put in a tough position—both figuratively and literally—and more than delivered on expectations. The timing of Clady's injury could've wrecked the Denver offensive line, but Harris provided much-needed support up front.
His performance continued what is an impressive comeback after he missed the entire 2011 season. One of his trainers, Wade Brinkman, explained in December how serious the situation was a few years ago.
"He was really broken, physically and mentally at that point," said Brinkman, per the Denver Post's Nicki Jhabvala. "It's certainly a tough journey playing professional football, and the toll that it takes on your body. I know he was feeling a lot of that, and frankly, I think at times he was close to hanging it up."
Jhabvala wrote how Brinkman put Harris on a workout plan similar to that used by a mixed martial arts fighter. The program delivered major results:
Brinkman said Harris' strength has increased 100 to 140 percent in their three years of working together. But more significant, perhaps, was his ability to recover quickly. After interval workouts, Harris' heart rate would rocket to 190 beats per minute. Following only a minute of rest, he could lower it to 125 or 130, key for a player who has plays nearly every snap.
While Harris has found new life in the NFL—starting 31 games in the last two seasons—it would be unrealistic to expect him to anchor the Pittsburgh offensive line. To a certain extent, there's a reason he was available to the Broncos last May and hadn't been snapped up by another team.
Harris will provide depth along the line for Pittsburgh, and in the case of an emergency, similar to Denver's situation a year ago, he could be counted upon to start. As long as expectations are kept to a reasonable level, this should be a smart signing for the team.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported on March 13 that Harris was one of three tackles—along with Russell Okung and Chris Hairston—with whom the Steelers were planning to meet.
The move makes sense, since Kelvin Beachum is also a free agent. Alejandro Villanueva would benefit from having competition from an experienced veteran such as Harris.
Pittsburgh doesn't need Harris to deliver a Pro Bowl-caliber season. As long as he can provide depth along the line or even potentially beat out Villanueva for a starting job, he'll more than pay back the team's investment over the course of the season.