With the exception being one-day retirement contracts, there are no lifetime-achievement-award signings in the NFL.
The New England Patriots wouldn’t have brought a longtime New York Jets linebacker aboard on a two-year, $5 million deal in June if there were.
David Harris is 33 years old and entering his 11th season. He’s started 147 games and appeared in 154. He’s not the same player he was during his heyday in East Rutherford, but the Michigan product has aged well, and has done so at a position of oftentimes little grace.
Though never a Pro Bowler, Harris has been an NFL defensive rookie of the month, a Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie selection, a two-time AFC defensive player of the week, an Ed Block Courage Award recipient and a second-team All-Pro. He’s been a team captain, and a sign of stability in the middle of a New York front subject to renovations.
Harris has been a lot of things.
He’s also been one of the most productive linebackers in the league for as long a time as any still playing.
That may not mean much now as the 6-foot-2, 250-pound veteran begins his first training camp in Foxborough later this week. Past production holds little weight at this juncture, and yet, it’s still the body of work that brought Harris to where he is.
Since arriving as a second-round pick in the 2007 draft, Harris has amassed 708 solo tackles, 35 sacks, 10 forced fumbles and six interceptions.
It is a four-part stat line that’s proven tough to match. And, over the last 21 campaigns, according to Pro Football Reference, only a handful of players have entered the league and gone on exceed each of those numbers.
Their names are Ray Lewis, London Fletcher, Brian Urlacher, James Farrior and Karlos Dansby.
Lewis played in 228 games for the Baltimore Ravens, and accrued 1,562 solo tackles, 41.5 sacks, 19 forced fumbles and 31 interceptions by the time he retired following Super Bowl XLVII. Thirteen Pro Bowls, seven first-team All-Pros and three second-team All-Pros followed for Lewis – as did a Super Bowl MVP and two defensive player of the year honors.
Fletcher checked into 256 games between his years with the St. Louis Rams, Buffalo Bills and Washington Redskins, and amassed 1,380 solos, 39 sacks, 19 forced fumbles and 23 interceptions over that span. A total of four Pro Bowls and a pair of second-team All-Pro nods were accrued by Fletcher before his final exit following 2013.
Urlacher appeared in 182 games as a member of the Chicago Bears, and tallied 1,040 solo stops, 41.5 sacks, 11 forced fumbles and 22 picks. He gathered eight Pro Bowls, four first-team All-Pros and a second-team All-Pro from 2000 through 2012, as well as NFL defensive rookie of the year and defensive player of the year.
Farrior logged 239 games for the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers, racking up 983 solo tackles, 35.5 sacks, 18 forced fumbles and 11 interceptions between 1997 and 2011. A two-time Pro Bowler, first-team All-Pro and second-team All-Pro he became along the way.
And then there’s Dansby, the only other linebacker on the post-1996 list that’s still going. Since 2004, through stops with five teams, he’s logged 196 games, 999 solos, 42 sacks, 20 forced fumbles and 19 interceptions. Dansby joined his sixth team, the Arizona Cardinals, this offseason.
Not a bad group for Harris to reside behind. That isn’t to say what he’s done in his career puts him on the level of a London Fletcher. It isn’t to say his career is done, either.
But to date, Harris has started all 16 games in eight seasons, reached 100-plus combined tackles in six seasons, notched three-plus sacks in seven seasons, jarred multiple fumbles in four seasons, and put forth his six career picks in two seasons. He missed just his first game since 2008 this past season.
He’s stayed around the ball.
Some players are great for a short time; others are good for a long time. Harris has sat in the latter category. Perhaps that’s why it’s been easier to look past him.
But you’ll soon see Harris in a familiar spot – the starting lineup – 13 Pro Bowls or none, jersey No. 52 or No. 45.