While much of the Detroit Lions coaching staff is busy with the American Team at the 2022 Senior Bowl, head coach Dan Campbell—who is acting as just an advisor this week—said that he’s been using the week to chat with general manager Brad Holmes about the current state of the roster, and the roster acquisition phase that lies ahead.
Part of that process is evaluating the players on the Lions roster who are on expiring contracts. With free agency set to begin on March 16, the Lions have just over a month to decide the fate of some of their current players.
One of those key players is outside linebacker Charles Harris. The former first-round pick had a career year in Detroit after being labeled a bust when his career fizzled out in Miami and Atlanta. Harris found a groove in Detroit, starting 14 games, tallying 7.5 sacks, and finishing in the top 10 in ESPN’s run stop win rate among all edge defenders. While many were surprised about Harris’ production in 2021, outside linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard was not. Despite the struggles in his first four seasons, Sheppard saw a hungry player on tape that was perhaps being misused.
“The first thing that jumps out to you on film when you watch Charles is his effort, his effort, his effort,” Sheppard told a small group of reporters at the Senior Bowl. “In Atlanta, they even had Charles playing in the 5-technique. I’m not sure if you guys know that. That’s an under-front, where he’s–this past year, he was the 9. They had him at the 5, where Nick Williams and (Michael) Brockers were playing, and he never complained about it, I heard. I spoke to people in Atlanta, he never complained. Everybody I talked to always said, ‘Great kid. He’s a little different personality, but once he trusts you, you have him. He’s all in.’ And that’s exactly what I got.”
However, the Lions only signed Harris to a one-year, $1.75 million deal before the season. Now, Harris could be set to hit free agency, and he’s likely to get a significant pay raise.
Sheppard has a unique perspective on Harris’ situation, because just a few years ago, he was in that same spot. As one of many former players turned Lions coach—his playing career ended in 2018—Sheppard knows Harris is facing a life-changing offseason. He’d love to have Harris—his “highest productive guy”—back in 2022, but he’s also encouraging his own players to do what’s best for them and their families.
“But this is a time—I’ll tell you why I do this—to change the trajectory of these guys’ family’s lives, and he has a chance to do that,” Sheppard said. “So I’ll tip my hat. If he’s a Lion, obviously I’d be ecstatic. If he goes somewhere else, as long as it’s right for him, I’ll be ecstatic.”
Harris has previously stated that the Lions fit what he’s looking for in free agency.
“I’m looking for stability and a coaching staff and a team and a group of players that surrounds me that trusts me and that I trust that we can go out there together,” Harris told the Dungeon of Doom podcast in December. “I really want to be part of a team that wins something. I haven’t won anything yet in my career.”
The Lions will have some salary cap space to use this offseason, but it’s unclear yet if they’re willing to dole out hefty contracts while still rebuilding. Last season, Detroit went the frugal route, but they were under tighter cap restrictions and entered the year hoping to develop young talent before spending a lot of on more seasoned players.
Harris turns just 27 next month, and he could have plenty of good football ahead of him. But it’s hard to know if Detroit will prioritize him with many other needs around the roster.