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Elway: Retaining Harris 'the start' of trying to keep as many key players as possible

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --John Elway's to-do list for the next few months remains as long as Santa Claus' ledger of the naughty and the nice.

But there were plenty of reasons for the executive vice president of football operations and general manager to beam as he introduced Chris Harris Jr. at the Monday press conference to celebrate the cornerback's five-year contract extension.

The most obvious was clear: the Broncos retained a premium cornerback, the leader in the metrics used by, and a man suited to their scheme -- and did so at a price that was below what it would have been if Harris hit the unrestricted free-agent market in March.

"I'm just glad he never hit the open market," Elway said. "I'm glad that we were able to get it done here and he's happy. I think any time you look at a deal, the one thing I've always known is if you come to an agreement, it's usually a good deal for both sides."

Check out photos of Chris Harris Jr. signing his five-year contract extension.

"Oh yeah, I definitely could have gotten more off the open market," Harris acknowledged, laughing. "I know that; we all know that. But it's not all about money at the end of the day. It's about being happy, and I'm satisfied. I'm happy being here."

Money isn't everything, but it's a life-changing contract regardless, and a galaxy removed from the $2,000 signing bonus that he received when he joined the Broncos for training camp in 2011.

The work to retain Harris also reveals Elway's current priority: keeping as many of the young players the Broncos develop as possible. Elway noted that once Harris showed he was all the way back from the torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered Jan. 12, "then he was our target."

In the next few months, a significant chunk of Elway's long-term plan comes to fruition: retaining the core built under his watch.

The relatively fallow drafts in the late 2000s left the Broncos looking to free agency to bolster their ranks, so the Broncos attacked the market for imports. But now, with a slew of expiring contracts that includes Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, Orlando Franklin, Rahim Moore and veteran pickups like Terrance Knighton, the big splashes could come from the Broncos keeping their own.

"When you win four division titles, you've had a lot of success, and as soon as you've had that success, it means you've got a lot of real good football players on your team," Elway said. "We've got to continue to draft well. We've got to continue to retain the guys that we can retain that give us the opportunity to continue to win like this."

And that comes back to Elway's oft-stated overarching goal: not to win now, but win "from now on."

"I didn't get in here to win part of the time," he said. "I want to win all the time."

And that means making the right decisions under the constraints of the salary cap. Last year, the Broncos lost four key picks from the 2009 and 2010 drafts: wide receiver Eric Decker, guard Zane Beadles and 2009 first-rounders Knowshon Moreno and Robert Ayers.

"When you're good, it's tough, but we're going to continue to try to be as good as we can and continue to draft well and try to keep as many as we can," Elway said, "and Chris is a start for us."

And just how many players the Broncos retain could depend as much on their own philosophies as the team's.

One example is Knighton. After signing in March 2013, his career blossomed in Denver, to the point where he now serves as team captain. He said he talked to Harris as the cornerback wrestled with his decision.

"I told Chris, just coming where I came from, the grass is not greener on the other side," Knighton said. "And sometimes it means a lot more to be in a winning organization and making money than being in a losing organization and making money and playing for two years and thinking you're gone or you're going somewhere else.

"Sometimes, winning overshadows how much money you make. Because I'm pretty sure there's guys that wish they were on winning teams that would sacrifice a few million dollars to be in the position we're in."

And Knighton might be among those players who would.

"I don't want to leave. I want to be here. But I've been in the position before, I know how it works. So you've got to do what's right for your family. But you've also got to do what's right for your career.

"So Denver is definitely where I want to be, and when that time comes, if they're in the ballpark, I'll be a Bronco."

Those are the types of sentiments Elway hopes to hear as the club attempts to retain as many of the players they want as is possible under the constraints of the salary cap.

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Look through the best photos of Chris Harris Jr. from his time with the Broncos.


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