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Grading the Damon Harrison contract extension with Detroit Lions

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Hard to view this as anything other than win-win.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Detroit Lions Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions surprised many by signing defensive tackle Damon Harrison Sr. to a one-year extension on Wednesday night. It was surprising not because Harrison was undeserving of the contract, but because it had seemed that since Harrison reported to training camp, the two sides had agreed to wait another year before returning to the bargaining table.

But the deal is done, and while we don’t know all the specifics of the new contract yet, we have enough information to give our opinion on the deal. Let’s break it down.

The terms

According to Adam Schefter, Harrison’s new deal is worth $11 million in his extra year, but—more importantly—includes $12 million guaranteed between this year and next. Guaranteed money, as many expected, was apparently key in this deal, as Harrison had none remaining on his contract.

As for the $11 million in 2021, that’s really the going rate for a defensive tackle. Eddie Goldman—who is five years younger than Snacks—got a four-year deal last year worth an average of $10.5 million per year. With only one year on the deal, this is an affordable deal for the Lions, while giving Harrison the money he’s worth.

The future

Locking up Harrison for three years is obviously huge for this defense, which is trying to build itself under the “stop the run” philosophy. Harrison has been the best run-defending nose tackle in the league for years.

Snacks has shown no signs of slowing down, and as we’ve seen with guys like Vince Wilfork, nose tackles can play at—or at least near—a high level into their mid-30s. In other words, there’s a pretty good chance Harrison will still be playing at a very high level by the end of this contract.

Third year

We can’t be sure until we see a full breakdown of Harrison’s new deal, but there’s a good chance that the Lions will be able to get out of that third year, if need be. Harrison was due to make salaries of $6.75 and $9 million over the next two years, meaning he’ll almost certainly reach his guaranteed amount by that third year. That should limit the dead money the Lions will owe to almost nothing in the final year of his contract, giving the Lions an out should they need one.

“Bad precedent”

As far as I can tell, the only counterargument to a deal like this is the one that many have clung to since Harrison and Darius Slay both expressed their desire for a new deal: that signing a player with two years remaining on a deal is setting a bad precedent. In other words, now the Lions are more prone to players holding out.

I never really bought this argument at all. There are several things that make Harrison’s situation unique. First, this is Harrison’s first contract with the Lions. The one he was playing on was negotiated by the Giants. This was Bob Quinn’s opportunity to put his own stamp on Harrison’s deal.

Additionally, Harrison had no remaining guaranteed money on his contract. While that’s not completely rare, it’s understandable that a player would like a little financial security as he enters the twilight of his career. Especially—and this brings me to my third point—when a potential lockout is on the horizon. Harrison may not even see that third year in his contract if the NFLPA and owners can’t come to an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement by 2020. That’s why the guaranteed money before then was so key in this deal.

Finally, Harrison is a generational talent. Just because the Lions gave him an extension two years before his deal was up doesn’t mean that door is open for every Lions player worthy of a new contract. Additionally, they gave him a single year. It’s not like players are going to be beating down the Lions’ door for one-year extensions. Most are seeking long-term deals.

Overall

I’m failing to see a downside to this contract for either side. It’s an extremely affordable deal for the Lions. It gives Snacks what he wants. And it’s a great PR move for the Lions, showing that despite it not being Harrison’s “turn,” the team is willing to break conventionality for the sake of their players. Juxtapose that with the Cowboys and Chargers, who are still in the midst of a public, ugly holdout with their franchise running backs.

This move gets an easy A.

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