New Signing: A Safety, A Legacy

Cliffton Geathers won't be the only new rookie with a terrific family history with the NFL when OTAs begin in a few weeks. The Browns will sign another rookie with an outstanding legacy in the days to come. Here's the scoop...

Earlier today, John Taylor and I began chasing a story that the Browns had signed Arkansas S Matt Harris, who John instantly recognized as the son of former Dallas Cowboys great Cliff Harris (as an aside, also an undrafted rookie free agent safety).

It was a story that had appeared on local TV in Arkansas and appeared in a couple of SEC blogs, but, knowing how rookie free agent signings can sometimes work, we wanted to get it confirmed. While we weren't able to get a positive response from either Arkansas or the Cleveland Browns today, we did make contact with the publisher of Scout's Arkansas site, Hawgs Illustrated's Clay Henry. Clay reached Matt's father, Cliff Harris, and got the scoop from him about where the signing stood.

As you will see below, the signing "isn't a signing" because Harris hasn't actually inked his contract, but it appears that he will be a Cleveland Brown soon.

Clay has known Matt and his father for years, and his article was so good we simply wanted to present it to you here. Enjoy. - Barry

Matt Harris: Dream Chance

Matt Harris admits he dreamed of playing for the Dallas Cowboys. He grew up wanting to follow in his father's footsteps in his hometown, so to speak.

But it might be sweeter that the former Arkansas Razorback safety isn't going to Dallas. The 2-year contract waiting on him in Cleveland with the Browns won't be the fruit of any phone call made by dad, former Dallas great Cliff Harris.

Nicknamed "Captain Crash" for the way he hit, Cliff Harris played 10 seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, earning All-Pro honors four times and playing in the Pro Bowl six times. He is in the Cowboys Ring of Honor.

"I know more people in Cleveland than my dad," Matt Harris said Thursday. "That would be a grand total of one. The only person I know is our former trainer at Arkansas, Joe Sheehan. My dad has never been to Cleveland, never played there. It's in the AFC North. The Cowboys never played there when my dad played."

Harris, 6-2, 198, and a product of Pearce High School in Richardson, Texas, is just back from a free agent tryout with Cleveland. He was offered a contract this week. It was mailed to Drew Pittman, his agent, on Wednesday.

"I'll get to Cleveland on the 16th, sign it, then begin OTAs the next day," Harris said. "It's a two-year deal and I obviously have to make the team. But I'm excited. It's a dream chance, a sweet dream come true to have a chance to play in the NFL. That's all you ask for, a chance.

"I was up there with the other rookies that were drafted this past weekend. I played against some of them. There was Joe Haden, the first pick, from Florida. There was Colt McCoy from Texas. I had lunch with Colt on Sunday. Pretty cool. Neat guys, great guys.

"I just got off the phone with my agent. He was holding the contract. I'm excited. A lot has already happened. I went up there as kind of a walk-on tryout, then it's a walk-on to a free agent walk-on, kind of. That's how I look at it. I'm still a walk-on trying to earn my contract. I'll sign it when I get there and then get after it.

"Yeah, my whole life I wanted to be a Cowboy. But this is probably better. This one right here, is more special because I did this on my own. My dad couldn't have had anything to do with this one. I feel self fulfilled with this one."

Harris was a regular for most of his last two seasons at Arkansas, but he had heard talk all of his life that some of what he got in athletics was probably because of his father's reputation as an NFL great safety with the Cowboys.

"I know people have said I got things because of my dad," he said. "But I know this about the NFL, there are no favorites.

"It's kind of funny, I've always talked to my dad about playing the game. He's helped me with the mental aspect and given me tips. He asked me the other day if I needed anything or wanted to talk. I told him, 'Dad, sit back and enjoy this. You don't need to do anything but enjoy this. It's my turn.' I really believe that.

"Now I know what the odds are going to be. Cleveland drafted two safeties. There's going to be great competition for me to make it. But I'm going to compete for it.

"What I get from the NFL experience I had last week was that it is a great environment. Everyone helps everyone. The vets will help the rookies. It's in everyone's best interest for the team to win. It's all about winning and making the team better. I think that's going to be a fun environment."

Cliff Harris laughed about the details of his son's first contract in the NFL. He recalls that he got a signing bonus of $500 and a one-year deal for $15,000. He said returning starter Mel Renfroe was getting $20,000.

"I got a new contract the next year since I was a starter," Cliff Harris said. "Do you know what the league minimum is now? $335,000 is what they are giving now for league minimum. That's amazing.

"It's a different deal now. I thought I might have my falls open for the first time in a long time. No kids playing any sports. But I'll be glad to go to some games in Cleveland. I think I'm as excited as Matt.

"We have an FCA national golf outing this weekend in Hot Springs. I had asked Matt to play with me. He's going to do that. I'll have a present for him, a new golf outfit. I'm not telling you what the colors are for the shorts and shirt. You might guess."

How about orange and brown?

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