The most difficult man for the New York Jets to hold onto this offseason may not be Pro Bowl defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson or quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. It might well be Damon Harrison, the nose tackle who is set for a major pay day.
Harrison is coming off a year where he was in the midst of some talk for a Pro Bowl or All-Pro nod, such was the productivity of his third year in the league. He posted a career-high 72 tackles this past year along with his first ever forced fumble. It is the kind of the season that shows his impact, all done in the thankless and oft-overlooked role of a nose tackle in a 3-4 defense.
Which means that Harrison, part space-eater and part impact player, has positioned himself to get the coveted second contract where an NFL player earns the bulk of his money.
And with the Jets likely placing a franchise tag on Wilkerson and needing to ink Fitzpatrick for at least two years, Harrison might be the odd man out at the end of the day. There might not be enough money to give Harrison the kind of contract he deserves.
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Two years ago, the Jets tried to sign him long-term, with a team source saying that he was offered a three-year contract for $15 million, an offer which he turned down.
Which means that Harrison could be primed to receive one of the largest contracts for any 3-4 nose tackle in the NFL, something that might be in line with a defensive tackles Haloti Ngata or a Geno Atkins. And it could be argued that Harrison’s dominance in the 3-4, much more demanding and grueling on a nose tackle then in the 4-3, could mean that a team would be willing to overpay for his services.
Perhaps a team like the New England Patriots, who lost Vince Wilfork to free agency last year and need a nose tackle in the worst way.
Harrison is also a marketable personality, funny and charming and a ham for the camera. His story, coming from working at a Target to junior college and then NAIA program William Penn before being signed as an undrafted free agent is now set for a next chapter that could be quite lucrative.