The National Football League and its 32 teams are just about two weeks away from the start of the long-awaited 2021 offseason. Meanwhile, many teams suffered severe struggles trying to stop the opposing air raids. Subsequently, they would need to add upgrades to their secondaries at an efficient price. For those clubs, former Minnesota Vikings safety Anthony Harris could be a target during the 2021 NFL free agency.
How We Got Here
An undrafted free agent, Anthony Harris signed with Minnesota in 2015 and has spent the past six years there, coming a long way since his first three seasons in the league.
Initially, Harris only started eight games during his first three seasons on the professional level. However, Minnesota started to utilize the former Virginia Cavaliers prospect more and more. As a result, he was the starter for the majority of the first of two years that would pump his value up. Currently, 2018 and 2019 remain the years that have the biggest effect on Anthony Harris’s seemingly impressive reputation in the eyes of NFL general managers.
In 2018, Anthony Harris participated in 60 percent of the Vikings’ defensive snaps, starting in 9 of his 15 appearances. He didn’t see that much action, recording just 17 targets, but he managed to impress enough for his first breakout campaign. Harris posted an allowed passer rating of 58.1.
Moreover, his next campaign saw him turn in a similar outcome, conceding a rating of 44.2 on 23 targets. This time, he managed to start 14 games in what was, by far, his strongest season in the NFL.
The year that followed presented a sharp contrast in Harris’s performance, with his numbers slipping on a significantly bigger workload. The 29-year-old allowed a passer rating of 118.1 in coverage, dealing with 36 targets. Furthermore, he was one of four members of the passing defensive unit to allow a rating north of 100.0 while registering at least 30 targets. Harris had his worst campaign yet, contributing to Minnesota’s finish as the 10th-worst secondary in the NFL (allowed passer rating).
However, this seemed to have only had a slight effect on his value entering the 2021 NFL free agency. According to Spotrac, Anthony Harris is projected to get about $14 million per year, third-most among free safeties. While a lower demand this offseason could spoil those high hopes, a low supply of high-quality assets on the safety market could balance the situation out. Therefore, anything over $12 million a year is a realistic target for Harris and his agency, Athletes First.
Whether that is worth it from a team perspective or not is an entirely different question, though. Still, there should be an active group of candidates for Anthony Harris throughout the 2021 NFL free agency. That is unless the Vikings use the franchise tag on him, which they have to do before March 9th.
2021 NFL Free Agency: Most Likely Anthony Harris Destinations
The Jacksonville Jaguars‘ new general manager Trent Baalke will have some very difficult work to go through to fix a 1-15 team with a plethora of issues. Needless to say and contrary to a popular belief, drafting Trevor Lawrence isn’t going to be enough. Fortunately, the Jaguars have what it takes to begin this rebuild in the form of financial possibilities and salary-cap space, allowing them to make a splash in the 2021 NFL free agency.
Per OverTheCap, the Jaguars are estimated to have around $85 million in free cap space under the projected $180-million threshold. This ranks as the most available finances in the league and is more than sufficient to address all of the team’s needs. They certainly are noticeable. The offensive line and the pass-rush are both far behind the state of being consistent and balanced. However, the group most desperate for upgrades is undoubtedly their secondary.
That unit finished the 2020 NFL season near the bottom in almost all metrics in that field. The Jaguars posted a 105.6 allowed passer rating during the regular season, which was the third-highest. Furthermore, Jacksonville also surrendered the sixth-most yards through the air and the second-highest completion percentage.
The Jaguars’ defense against the pass didn’t play up to a satisfying level and now is the perfect time to restore order. That is not just because the unit struggled to the mighty extent it did during the 2020 campaign. Also, D.J. Hayden and Josh Jones, both starters within the group, are scheduled to join the 2021 NFL free agency market.
The former of the two was the team’s starting strong safety last year. However, his terrible rating in coverage of 138.9 has by all means ruled out a new deal for him in north Florida. While Jarrod Wilson put on a very pleasing display alongside him, his potential replacement from within would be Chris Claybrooks. Claybrooks only started four of the team’s matchups in his rookie year. Moreover, he became the only player with a worse season than Jones in pass coverage (at least 30 targets). The Jags are in desperate need of additions at safety as they enter the 2021 NFL free agency.
Jacksonville won’t have any problem matching Anthony Harris’s demand of $14 million per season. Given their $85 million in availability, there would be beyond enough cap space left to address all their other issues. Nonetheless, the Jaguars would be much better off waiting to see if Harris’s demand drops and he becomes cheaper. That’s not unlikely considering he has gathered an insufficiently small amount of targets in coverage for a starter, making him a risk in the 2021 NFL free agency.
New York Jets
Twelve months ago, the New York Jets had one of the most promising safety duos and hopes of an improving passing defense. However, much has occurred since last year’s free agency period. Firstly, Joe Douglas’s signings at the cornerback position turned in woeful seasons. Secondly, Jamal Adams was traded to the Seattle Seahawks and Bradley McDougald was brought in the same trade.
All of this has contributed to a brutal year experienced by the Jets secondary. The unit’s rating amounted to 103.2, the fourth-worst in the league. Moreover, the team was also within the worst five teams in both completion percentage and yards surrendered.
Those struggles also apply to the safety position to a mixed extent. On the one hand, McDougald had a very unconvincing campaign with a rating north of the 100.0-mark before a season-ending injury. On the other hand, Marcus Maye made a great impression in his fourth season in the NFL. Amongst defensive backs with more than 15 targets, only Maye and Brian Poole posted allowed ratings under 90.0.
Maye set the bar very high and could be the centerpiece of a strong Jets defense against the pass. However, Joe Douglas is bound to face a tough challenge as regards the former Florida Gators’ safety. Both he and McDougald are with expiring contracts and promise to hit the free-agent market.
Marcus Maye could end up being underpriced, considering this year’s class at the position. This could help the Jets complete a crucial 2021 NFL free agency move and retain the 27-year-old at a reasonable, efficient price.
However, if the two sides are not able to agree upon a new contract, Anthony Harris is a bearable option for New York. Harris’s decent but discredited due to low workload recent track record, as well as low demand, could set his price back. The Jets shouldn’t be happy with his requirements unless his price falls below Maye’s projected $13.2 million. Yet, they could have to settle for a higher price as Anthony Harris is amongst the organization’s best alternatives to Maye.
Although there are better options at cheaper prices, Anthony Harris is the only high-profile free agent who could present a beneficial offer to the Jets to land an upgrade at safety without spending much more than they would have had to for Maye. The team will be beyond capable of filling holes, having $77 million in cap space at hand.
Harris might not be worth the $13-$14 million as much as Maye is. However, with Justin Simmons‘s value likely to grow, Harris is their best bet to add a safety of Maye’s caliber if they lose him.
The Carolina Panthers will have $30 million in resources to utilize this upcoming 2021 NFL free agency. As safety isn’t exactly their lone concern, new general manager Scott Fitterer will be forced to work within tight limitations in that department. That is due to four starters in the O-Line leaving and the urgency to improve the middle linebacker and defensive end positions.
Furthermore, there is another defensive departure of importance that goes undiscussed. That is free safety Tre Boston.
Boston had a solid campaign, conceding a passer rating of just 95.0 in 55 targets across 16 games in 2020. Furthermore, he has been very consistent over the last three seasons, having allowed less than 95.0 in each year. He enters the 2021 NFL free agency as likely one of the most underpriced safeties in the market.
Alongside Tre Boston, Juston Burris had a weak season, allowing a passer rating of 101.9. All in all, the Panthers’ secondary struggled noticeably, ending the regular season as the eighth-worst unit in that department. But, while the outside corner duo is seemingly untouchable, the safety posts are not in the same boat.
Tre Boston was the only light in the tunnel at safety during the 2020 campaign. Should the team fail to re-sign the UNC product, there will not be any other option but to find a worthy replacement in the 2021 NFL free agency.
Harris is highly likely to be more expensive, which would place Carolina in a problematic situation. A potential $14 million deal would take up nearly half of their projected salary-cap space. This would not be a preferable option as the team would still need to address their O-Line shortcomings.
However, as already mentioned, Anthony Harris’s price, if it moves, will drop. Therefore, the Panthers would be able to get a team-friendly deal with a few roster cuts to open up more space for linemen and defensive players. Nonetheless, Carolina will find themselves in a trouble should they not grab Boston back or replace him in the 2021 NFL free agency.
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