Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Mike Harris may be one of the team’s most interesting free agents this offseason. Before last season he was primarily an offensive tackle, but earned the starting right guard spot during training camp and became one of the team’s most consistent offensive linemen.
Last offseason the Vikings re-signed Harris to a one-year deal worth $1.542 million. Now, at the age of 27, Harris once again finds himself as an unrestricted free agent.
The Vikings are likely going to try to re-sign Harris after the success he found as a guard last season. Pro Football Focus rated him at the No. 23 guard in the NFL, 21 spots higher than the Vikings’ other guard, Brandon Fusco. The biggest question, though, is what role do the Vikings see Harris fitting into next year and the years to follow.
Fusco struggled at times on the left side of the line so there has been some speculation that the team might try to move him back to the right side. There would then be the possibility of Harris moving to the left side, but changing positions so many times is not easy and he could end up struggling the same way Fusco did. Besides, there has also been a lot of speculation of the Vikings drafting an offensive guard early on in this year’s draft.
If that is the case, another player will be filling Harris’ starting spot from last year, leaving him without a position. There is another possibility, too: The team moves him back to right tackle and have him compete for the starting spot. Veteran tackle Phil Loadholt is coming off two season-ending injuries and it’s hard to say how effective he will be after them. Also, T.J. Clemmings struggled last year as a rookie filling in for Loadholt, so there could be an opportunity for Harris to earn the role of starting right tackle, the same way he earned the starting role at right guard a year ago.
No matter where he ends up playing, though, Harris proved he has the skill and versatility to be a key part of the offensive line. The next question to be asked is what kind of contract offer can the 27-year-old offensive lineman expect to receive from the Vikings?
Contract considerations: Atlanta Falcons offensive guard Chris Chester finished right below Harris in the PFF rankings at the end of the season. The 33 year-old veteran is also a free agent this offseason and last year he signed a one-year deal worth $2.8 million with $550,000 guaranteed.
Another player to look at is Cleveland Browns guard John Greco, who finished the season rated as the No. 25 overall offensive guard by PFF. Greco, currently 30 years old, signed a five-year extension with the Browns before the start of the 2013 season. It was worth $8.37 million (averaging $2,092,5000 per year) with $1.3 million guaranteed.
The Falcons’ other guard, Andy Levitre, is another player that one could look at when discussing contracts for Harris. Levitre finished the season ranked as the No. 22 guard in the NFL by PFF, just one spot ahead of Harris. He renegotiated his contract last season after being traded by the Tennessee Titans and is now set to make $23.25 million, with $5.5 million guaranteed, through the 2018 season. That works out to an average of about $5.8 million each year.
Clint Boling is the last player to look at when comparing players that performed similarly to Harris in 2015, as he was ranked just two spots ahead of Harris at the end of the season. The Vikings took a little bit of a run at trying to sign Boling last offseason, but the 26-year-old guard decided to re-sign with the Cincinnati Bengals. He signed a five-year deal worth $26 million (averaging out to $5.2 million per year) with $5 million guaranteed.
By looking at the salaries of the players who played similarly to Harris in 2015 it is clear that the Vikings got a steal. Harris was playing at a high level last season while making quite a bit less than the players who played at the same level.
If they Vikings re-sign Harris it is clear they are going to have to pay him quite a bit more than they did a year ago and possibly even make it a multi-year contract. The biggest questions, though, are if they even plan to have Harris start at guard again or if they want to move him over to tackle. Those answers should start to become clearer, though, as the NFL offseason continues to approach free agency and the NFL draft.