It was a slow start to free agency for the Philadelphia Eagles but they finally made a significant signing on Friday evening by inking veteran safety Anthony Harris to a one-year contract worth $5 million.
In order to learn more about Philly’s newest defensive back, I thought it’d benefit BGN readers to get a Minnesota Vikings perspective on Harris. I reached out to the excellent ERic Thompson (@eric_j_thompson) of Daily Norseman and here’s what he had to share.
1 - Can you recap Harris’s career with the Vikings?
Harris was an afterthought of the 2015 draft class, going undrafted out of Virginia after an injury prevented him from participating in his pro day and dropped him out of his original mid-round projection. He played pretty sparingly throughout his first three seasons in the NFL, playing mostly special teams and only getting a few spot starts when our mutual old friend Andrew Sendejo was hurt in the 2016 and 2017 seasons. He truly ingrained himself into the defense in 2018, quietly putting together a nice season while starting the final nine games. As the incumbent starter alongside Harrison Smith in 2019, he had a career year. Harris snagged a league-high seven interceptions (including playoffs) and earned Pro Football Focus’ third-highest grade among all safeties. Harris had a bit of regression after getting the franchise-tagged in 2020, but he remains a very viable starter going forward. Harris’ relatively uncommon ascension and unassuming, friendly demeanor made him an easy player for Vikings to root for over the past six years.
2 - How do Vikings fans feel about the team not re-signing him?
After taking a step back in the 2020 season, most Vikings fans figured that it would be tough to keep Harris around in 2021. With so many other areas of concern on the defensive side of the ball and limited cap space to address them, Harris’ departure this offseason seemed like a formality. It’s not like Vikings fans were clamoring to get him off the roster, but most realized that he wasn’t going to return due to Minnesota’s cap situation and had come to terms with it.
3 - Seems like Harris had a down year last year. I saw the Daily Norseman Twitter account tweet (in January) about how the Vikings were smart to not sign him to an extension. How much of that was his fault versus the supporting cast’s fault? Looks like the Vikings had one of the league’s worst pass rushes last year. Is there confidence he can rebound?
Harris was probably asked to do too much in the Vikings defense last year. With no discernable pass rush, a very young secondary, and a weak interior run defense, Harris was often asked to cover a ton of ground in both helping defend the run and cover receivers over the top. That resulted in some very up-and-down performances. Harris wasn’t targeted a ton in the passing game, but there were a handful of instances where lack of communication between him and the young group of cornerbacks resulted in bad angles over the top and big plays. There were also occasions where Harris was forced to come up from a deep safety position and make a play against the run, which is always asking for trouble. Alvin Kamara’s huge game against the Vikings on Christmas Day was helped by a few poor missed tackles by Harris. I don’t think Eagles fans should expect another 2019 performance out of Harris this season, but as long as he isn’t asked to do too much in the defensive scheme, I think a rebound is certainly feasible.
4 - What are Harris’s strengths?
Harris is versatile—he has the ability to play both free and strong safety. He’s excellent at reading and reacting; the majority of his interceptions in 2019 were a byproduct of being in the right place when the ball arrived. Harris is a physical safety that is more than capable of contesting and breaking up passes over the top. He earned his starting role with the Vikings by being incredibly smart, consistent, and reliable.
5 - What are Harris’s weaknesses?
Harris isn’t the most fluid player athletically, which makes it difficult for him to recover on the occasions where he doesn’t read the play correctly. He’s a solid tackler and normally takes good angles, but open field tackling has never really been his strong suit. The 2019 season showed us that Harris can be great as a “center fielder” of the defense. The 2020 season showed us that Harris can get into trouble if he’s asked to cover too much ground.
6 - Anything else to know about him off the field?
Harris isn’t the most gregarious player you’ll ever see; he’s relatively soft-spoken and won’t give you many quotes that generate headlines. But he’s an incredibly easy guy to root for. Harris is very involved in many philanthropic and social justice initiatives. Eagles fans that are also cat people will love Harris—his cats even have their own Instagram account. Even if Harris doesn’t return to his 2019 form in Philadelphia, I think he’ll live up to his relatively low-risk deal with the Eagles.
Spider graph via Mockdraftable: