The 2023 NFL free agency period is firing off at a breakneck pace. While some players will return to their current teams, most players, especially the larger names, will look for a potential new landing spot, as is the case with RB Damien Harris.
Harris is one of the biggest names at his position and barely snuck into our NFL Top 100 Free Agents. After spending his rookie contract with the New England Patriots, what are some possible landing spots for Harris for the 2023 season?
Damien Harris Free Agency Best Fits
With his rookie contract expired, Harris 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, the NFL is 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. But as a two-down back with TD upside, Harris will certainly find himself a new home.
There is always a role for players who can get the tough and dirty yards and teams with enough salary cap space to make a deal happen.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers Could Target Harris To Supplement the Depth Chart
With the release of Leonard Fournette, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a gap to fill on their depth chart. Rachaad White saw his role grow in 2022, especially over the back half of the season, 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. 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 fits for his skills and the needs of the team. Given the questions at QB for Tampa following the retirement of Tom Brady, establishing a rushing game will be paramount in 2023.
Harris Could Complete the Jacksonville Jaguars Backfield
Two is one, and one is none. That is the approach that Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson takes toward the running back position. When at the NFL Combine, Pederson rather bluntly answered the question of whether the team was looking to add more running backs. “Yes.”
“I think in today’s game, you gotta have two to three guys. They’ve got to be able to carry the load. You’re talking about an 18-week, 17-game schedule and a postseason, it’s wear and tear on guys. You know, we haven’t seen enough of Snoop Conner yet, either. But we like him. And we know what JaMycal [Hasty] can do, we know what Travis Etienne [Jr.] can do.
“So yeah, you’re always looking to have two, three, four guys that can work the rotation at any given time.”
With James Robinson’s departure as a free agent (New England), Harris would make sense for the Jaguars as their short-area RB. After missing his rookie season due to a foot injury, Etienne was electric in 2022. However, there was also an eight-game stretch where he averaged 19 touches a game and saw 21 during their Wild Card victory over the Los Angeles Chargers.
While I am sure Etienne wants as many touches as possible, Pederson wants to keep him healthy, as Etienne is one of the more dangerous weapons in the league out of the backfield. With the Jaguars the favorites for the AFC South, managing his touches will be paramount.
Harris, while more expensive than a potential rookie RB, brings a solid track record of being a reliable No. 2 and could help fill out the depth chart heading into the 2023 NFL Draft.
The Atlanta Falcons Could Look to Harris in Free Agency
If we are considering the best fits for Harris, the Atlanta Falcons become an interesting option. Head coach Arthur Smith wants to build a rushing-focused attack similar to what he helmed as offensive coordinator with the Tennessee Titans.
A fifth-round pick in 2022, Tyler Allgeier had a successful rookie season and was one of just two rookie RBs to surpass 1,000 yards. Atlanta also has Cordarrelle Patterson operating as the receiving threat, so Harris would give the Falcons a three-headed attack that can keep each RB fresh for longer.
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.
While Allgeier showed he can handle a sizeable workload, averaging 19.8 carries and 107.8 yards in his final four weeks, how that volume would translate to a full season remains to be seen. Harris could also take unnecessary hits and reps off Patterson, who is nearing the end of his career.
Could Harris Help Fill the Potential Void Left by Austin Ekeler with the Los Angeles Chargers?
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 between the team and Austin Ekeler “failed to progress,” according to ESPN’s Lindsey Thiry. Consequently, 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 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. You cannot just replace that level of production.
Isaiah Spiller, a rookie in 2022, lost a ton of the hype he was carrying while at Texas A&M, and it is yet to be seen what he will do in the NFL. 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 takes a significant step from Year 1 to Year 2.