Linebacker David Harris has spent eight seasons in the NFL, all with the Jets. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
When free agency begins in early March, there are a handful of players across the league who could appeal to New England. With the understanding that the status of these players could change because of the franchise or transition tag, here are a few possibilities for the Patriots to consider. We have to stress that all of these guys aren’t necessarily considered the elite of the free agent class — instead, they’re players we think would be a good fit in New England. We already featured C.J. Spiller, Hakeem Nicks, Torrey Smith, Rahim Moore, Charles Clay, Jerry Hughes, Pernell McPhee, Orlando Franklin, Dane Fletcher, Roy Helu and Rey Maualuga. Today, it’s David Harris.
Age: 31 (Jan. 21, 1984)
Weight: 250 pounds
The skinny: He’s not the most well-known of the potential free agents — Patriots fans might know his previous starring role as “Guy Who Broke Tom Brady’s Interception-Free Streak” in the 2010 Divisional Playoffs, a pick that set the tone for New York’s upset of the Patriots. But over his eight seasons in the NFL, all of them with the Jets, Harris has distinguished himself as a smart and heady veteran who brings a nice consistency, poise and professionalism to the field and the locker room. Harris is one of the last men standing in Rex Ryan‘s really talented defenses of roughly a half-decade ago, and the second-round pick out of Michigan has made his mark as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, becoming a second-team All-Pro in 2009. He’s had some issues in coverage over the last few years, but is a stout presence in the middle, and over the last few years, played a very nice complementary role while working with New York’s outstanding defensive front when it comes to slowing the run. In New England, he’d likely work as a complementary piece to linebackers like Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins.
By the numbers: 3,249 – the number of defensive snaps played by Harris over the last three seasons, according to Pro Football Focus. It’s the highest total on the Jets roster in that time.
Why it would work: Harris is a smart, dependable veteran who could be had relatively cheaply. He’s registered at least 123 tackles in three consecutive seasons and has 30 career sacks. He’s known as someone who is stout against the run, and while no one is questioning the bonafides of defenders like Hightower and Collins after 2014 the idea of a thumper on the inside as a two-down defender against the run who comes off the field on passing downs would effectively make him Brandon Spikes without the Twitter baggage. (Something that’s appealing to the Patriots.) And as someone who has played eight years in the league but has missed out on the playoffs the last three seasons, the idea of being a part of a team that goes deep into the postseason on a fairly regular basis would also figure to hold some sort of appeal. He clearly passes the Rosevelt Colvin test in the sense that Bill Belichick has spoken very highly go him in the past on a fairly regular basis. (More on that shortly.) And it would represent a nice opportunity for the Patriots to poach a quality veteran from a divisional rival.
Why it might not work: If he does hit the market, Harris could be one of the more underrated gems of free agency on a few levels, including the fact that the veteran could have his choice of a few potential landing spots, including with his old boss Ryan in Buffalo (as a guy who could replace Spikes, at least on a semi-regular basis). Rumors also had the Falcons and Bears showing interest in the vet. (That doesn’t begin to take into account the idea of him staying put with the Jets.) And then, there’s also the fact that if the Patriots are able to bring back Hightower, Mayo and Collins, there probably wouldn’t be a lot of playing time available to a guy like Harris — who has carved out a tremendous niche as an iron man — in New England, even if he would acquiesce to play more of a two-down, run-stuffing role with the Patriots.
Quote: “I have a lot of respect for David Harris. That guy, first of all, he never comes of the field — not just this year, but any year. The guy is like a 98, 99 percent playtime player for them every year, year after year. It’s obviously a defense that has a lot of communication and adjustments, and he’s certainly at the center of that. Both as the signal caller and then at the line of scrimmage, you can see him adjusting the front or making some type of communication calls to his teammates. He’s a very instinctive player, which unfortunately we’ve seen that first-hand. He does a good job for them. He’s been very consistent, durable, dependable, productive over a long period of time.” Belichick on Harris, 12/19/14
Our take: On the surface, this seems like the sort of guy the Patriots take a flier on on a semi-regular basis: veteran defender who is looking to put the capper on his career with a chance to go to (or win) a Super Bowl. However, as previously mentioned, Harris is likely to find several suitors on the market — if he does get that far — most of which would likely allow him to continue to work as a three-down player, as opposed to the two-down specialist he’d likely be if he came to New England. (There’s also the question about just what can be expected out of Hightower next spring and summer because of a late-season injury and recent surgery.) Still, if the idea of working in occasional relief of presumed starters like Mayo, Hightower and Collins and the chance to get back to the playoffs sooner rather than later appeals to Harris, then he could certainly find a home with the Patriots, as long as the dollars were competitive.