AURORA | Shelby Harris is counting his blessings and not his lost millions.
“I’m just happy to have a job. There are millions of Americans who have lost their jobs because of this,” the sixth-year defensive tackle said of the coronavirus pandemic during a conference call Friday, a week after agreeing to return to the Denver Broncos on a team-friendly contract.
Harris’ one-year deal is worth $2.5 million with a chance to earn another $750,000 in bonuses. It represents only a slight increase from his pay last year and is the most stunning move by the Broncos during a busy offseason.
Harris and the Broncos expected to part ways after last season. Harris figured to command about $9 million annually on the open market after posting a career-best six sacks and leading the league’s defensive linemen with nine batted-down passes in 2019.
Last month, the NFL prohibited teams from meeting face to face with free agents and college prospects as the virus, which causes the disease COVID-19, began to spread rapidly across the globe.
With the usual wine-and-dine tours scuttled in favor of interactions on Skype or Zoom, the market was suddenly suppressed for lots of lower-tier free agents such as Harris and ex-teammate Derek Wolfe, who agreed to a one-year, $3 million deal with Baltimore shortly after Harris agreed to stay in Denver.
Asked about that effect, Harris pointed to the millions of workers laid off as the virus has wrecked the global economy.
“I can’t get mad about how things happen … when there are so many people in the world and in America right now who can’t even say they have a job because they lost it because of the coronavirus,” Harris said. “I’m just happy that I’m able to say that I have a job.”
Like so many sports fans who are making do without the daily diversions of games, Harris said he’s focusing on his family during these strange times where he can’t even work out with his teammates.
“Really for me I think this is a great opportunity to get close with your family again,” Harris said. “I just found out my oldest daughter, her school just got canceled for the rest of the year. It’s really just being at home and being with the family. We made a little gym in the basement where I can still get the work in and just stay ready.”
While part of his day is spent working out, “we’ve been blessed to have (this time) together because usually during this time I would be home and the kids would be at school and my wife would be doing something,” Harris said. “Now we’re kind of just all forced to be together. I’m cooking dinner every night.”
The virus causes mild symptoms in many of those infected, but it can cause severe symptoms or death for some, including older adults and those with underlying medical conditions such as respiratory ailments. Most Americans are under some sort of shelter-in-place or stay-at-home orders to try to keep hospitals from getting overwhelmed.
Offseason training is already pushed back and with professional baseball, basketball and hockey on hiatus, some observers are starting to wonder if there will even be a football season this fall.
“I think eventually there will be,” Harris said. “I just don’t know how much of it there will actually be of football. With training camp, obviously no vets like training camp. Obviously, you want to go out there and work, but you want to be safe. You want to do your part for the community just like they’re doing their part for us — social distancing and stuff.
“However long this needs to go, I’m all for it. It’s about the masses not just the single person. I’m worried about people bringing it to my grandma, bringing it to my mom, bringing it to my family. I just think the most important thing right now is just to focus on social distancing. Also, I feel like we have to give our thanks out to the nurses and the doctors and the first responders and everyone who has the essential jobs. … There are literally people putting their lives and their family on the line so that we can somehow live.”