The 2023 NFL free agency period is here. While some players will work out extensions to remain with their current teams, most will become unrestricted free agents and hit the open market, which very well could be the case for New England Patriots RB Damien Harris. What are some possible landing spots for Harris for the 2023 season?
Damien Harris’ Free Agency Predictions
With his rookie contract set to expire, Harris is slated to hit free agency as part of an extensive list of available running backs. But Harris’ career has not gone quite as some thought it might when he was dominating at Alabama, as various injuries played a significant role in his drop in value. In the end, it cost him his job.
Harris probably isn’t in line for a significant payday this offseason. He missed six games of the 2022 season due to injury and ran for 462 yards and three touchdowns on 106 carries while also catching 17 passes (23 targets) for 97 yards.
If you ask Harris, he would have no issue returning to the Patriots. But at the end of the day, it’s a business.
“If they want to have me, I’d love to come back,” Harris said back in January. “But at the end of the day, I know this is a business. I know that this organization is going to do what they feel is best for them, and at the end of the day, I’ve got to do what I feel like is best for me.”
According to Spotrac, Harris carries an estimated market value of $7.1 million AAV on a three-year deal, which honestly feels high to me, given the current market. As a two-down back with TD upside, Harris will certainly find himself a new home, as there is always a role for players who can get the tough and dirty yards.
Atlanta Could Look to Damien Harris During Free Agency
If we are considering the best fits for Harris, the Atlanta Falcons are an intriguing landing spot to consider. It’s clear that head coach Arthur Smith wants to build an offense based around the rushing attack similar to what he was a part of with the Tennessee Titans.
Last season, 2022 fifth-round pick Tyler Allgeier was one of the most surprising successes as the rookie out of BYU was one of just two RBs to surpass 1,000 yards. Atlanta also has Cordarrelle Patterson operating as the receiving threat, which would give the Falcons a three-headed attack that can keep them fresh for longer.
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Although Harris adds absolutely nothing as a receiver, he would be an easy fill-in to spell Allgeier without the offense needing to change its overall philosophy. It would also take unnecessary hits and reps off Patterson, who is nearing the end of his career.
Could Harris Find Himself in Los Angeles?
One team I did not expect to be talking about in the RB conversation was the Los Angeles Chargers. However, it has been reported that the latest contract negotiations “failed to progress,” according to ESPN’s Lindsey Thiry. Due to this, Austin Ekeler has been given permission to seek a trade.
The 27-year-old RB has been one of the most efficient running backs in the modern NFL. Ekeler has surpassed 900 scrimmage yards in each of the last five years but took his game to another level over the previous two. In 33 games between 2021 and 2022, Ekeler compiled 3,195 yards from scrimmage with a whopping 38 touchdowns.
There is no one player out there on the market who could replace Ekeler’s value. It will take a combined effort of multiple running backs with different styles who will each need to pick up a specific aspect of his game.
Isaiah Spiller, a rookie in 2022, was one of the best prospects coming out of Texas A&M but had a disastrous pre-draft process and lost a ton of the momentum he had built up. It is yet to be seen what he will do in the NFL, but there are skills there. But as part of the committee, I think he does bring some value. However, who will take the bulk of the carries and do the dirty work?
That’s where someone like Harris fits in as the two-down RB for the Chargers, while Spiller can be more of the change of pace and receiving option. It’s also worth considering Joshua Kelley, who had 69 rushes and 25 targets last year, as an additional chess piece for Los Angeles. Still, Harris would make the most sense as the lead back unless Spiller has taken a significant step from Year 1 to Year 2.
Tampa Bay Could Look to Damien Harris as a Way To Help the Depth Chart
With the official release of Leonard Fournette, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers need to figure out who will fill the void on the depth chart. Rachaad White saw his role grow in 2022, especially over the back half, but he saw the bulk of his production in the receiving game, catching 50 of 58 targets for 290 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie.
However, White is not a bruising rusher or one who tends to absorb contact well despite his size. He’s a bursty, agile rusher who is at his best when in open space or when he hits the second level.
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This is where Harris becomes a logical fit. He could serve as the short-area specialist and also be the primary goal-to-go back for the Bucs, while White is the dynamic, receiving, and change-of-pace RB for the offense.
So long as Harris can stay healthy, Tampa Bay would be one of the best landing spots for his skills and the needs of the team, while also working Ke’Shawn Vaughn into the flow if needed.