Not long after Shelby Harris became a member of the Seahawks, the veteran defensive end reminded John Schneider and Pete Carroll that they could have had him on their team five and a half years earlier.
Harris, who came into the league as an undrafted free agent in 2014 and bounced around with multiple teams before becoming a starter in Denver, visited the Seahawks early in the 2016 season but didn't leave with a contract. Now, Harris finally is a Seahawk having joined the team as part of the trade that sent Russell Wilson to Denver last month.
So when Harris returned to Seattle not as a young player looking to find a spot on a roster, but rather an established veteran who has started 43 games over the past three seasons, he playfully reminded Schneider and Carroll that, "Y'all had me up here, y'all had a chance to sign me, and y'all let me go, and now you had to trade for me."
And in a way, it's fitting given the challenging road Harris has faced in his career that he didn't end up in Seattle when he hoped to, but that things worked out that way in the end. After all, Harris is a player who, after going undrafted out of Illinois State, signed with the Raiders as an undrafted free agent, then preceded to get released a total of six times by three different teams until finally establishing himself in Denver a year after that Seahawks workout didn't result in a contract.
"It's kind of like my career coming full circle," Harris said. "I remember when I came up here for that workout in Seattle, I really wanted to be here, because you only hear great things about Seattle, and you want to be a part of that, you want to build on that culture. So when I got traded here, it was like, 'Oh, OK, it was meant to be.'… There's always been a mutual interest between me and Seattle."
And between not signing with Seattle in 2016 and playing 75 games with Denver over the next five seasons, Harris began to have his doubts about a career that, through three seasons, hadn't gotten off the ground, with Harris appearing in a total of eight games for the Raiders in 2014 and 2015.
Harris said his long career is the result of, "Just not giving up. I've been cut six times in my career. I really would just say it was never taking no for an answer. My big thing was just refusing to stop." However, Harris did acknowledge that there was a time when he doubted that he'd have the kind of professional success he has enjoyed over the last five seasons. Fortunately some sound advice from his wife, as well as the desire to set a good example for their four children, helped keep Harris on track.
"At one point I almost did quit," he said. "I had a workout with the Chargers my third year. I knew I was good enough to play, and it was at the end of the year, I had already had like eight workouts or something like that, and they didn't sign me. I called my, wife and I was like, 'I'm done with this. I feel like I'm better than what I'm getting credit for.' And credit to her, she was like, 'You've got to stick with it,' and then that next year was when I was in Denver. It definitely was a tough road, a lot of learning lessons… It's perseverance, not giving up. I've got little ones that look up to me, and so it's all about being a role model for them and showing them that dad worked hard and got to where he wanted to go, and you can do it too."
What Harris showed his kids, as well as all those NFL teams that didn't sign him in 2016, was that he is a darn good defensive lineman who, at 30, thinks he can still take his game to an even higher level. After playing a mostly reserve role but appearing in all 32 games his first two seasons with the Broncos, Harris became a starter in 2019 and has started all 43 games he has played over the past three seasons, including 16 starts last season during which he recorded 6.0 sacks and 49 tackles, both totals matching the career-highs he established while starting 16 games in 2019.
"He's a really smart football player," Seahawks defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt said. "That's what's really impressive about watching him play on tape. (He has) inside pass rush ability, good run defender, plays with really good instincts and feel, collapsing the pocket and getting his hands up, just things that are really valuable in his overall play."
The next step Harris hopes to take in Seattle is becoming a player who makes more of the game-changing plays that separate the great linemen from the really good ones.
"I've always believed in myself to be an All-Pro, Pro-Bowl caliber player," he said. "In order to do that, you've got to be more consistent rushing the passer, you have to be dominant in run defense, you don't let anybody through and make plays behind the line of scrimmage. You've got to make those splash plays, you've got to get the forced fumbles, you've got to get a couple batted balls for interceptions, that's game changing plays right there."
When news of the Wilson-to-Denver trade first broke last month, Harris was at the Broncos facility working out and his initial reaction was that of excitement that his team had just landed a Pro-Bowl quarterback. Then his phone started ringing and the call was from Broncos general manager George Paton, and Harris quickly figured out that he was not going to be teammates with Wilson after all. But while the trade to Seattle was unexpected for Harris, who had found an NFL home in Denver, it's also a change he is embracing for a number of reasons, not the least of which is a chance to play under Seattle's new defensive coordinator. While Harris has never played for Hurtt, he has heard good things about his new coordinator, and he is familiar with a new-look Seattle defense that will borrow concepts from the Vic Fangio defense Harris played in in Denver.
"This is the defense I've ran the past three or four years, and I'm very comfortable in it and I know the ins-and-outs of it," Harris said. "I'm just excited to work with coach Hurtt. I've heard so much about him, I remember that Teddy Bridgewater was the first person to text me, he was like, 'You're going to love coach Hurtt, he is the man.' This scheme is a different scheme, and if you can play this scheme, then you can play in other schemes I always say, because as a defensive lineman, they ask you to do everything. I'm a big believer in this scheme. It creates a lot of turnovers, creates a lot of havoc, and is very easy to scheme and confuse quarterbacks. I just think that it fits me very well, obviously. I've always believed in 3-4's—I just think that 3-4's are better run stoppers and in the division that we play in, with the Rams, Cardinals, and 49ers, the Rams and 49ers are run-heavy teams and this kind of neutralizes that a little bit. This defense, you guys will love it, you guys will see that it is a mixture of rush and coverage working together. You are going to get a lot of zones out of it, but once everybody gets it, it's going to be hard to stop."
From eating calamari with ranch to studying the dessert menu at restaurants, we've learned a lot from DK Metcalf this offseason.