After the game of his life, Charles Harris wore a sweatshirt and a beanie from Carhartt, the working man's company made in Detroit. Made in Kansas City, Harris is making it in Detroit. Won't be long before he's making more money.
"I bet we upset Vegas," Harris said with a smile after the Lions stunned Kyler Murray and the Cardinals on Sunday.
No one saw this coming for Harris, an underdog himself. Not even the Lions, not to this level. Otherwise, they would have signed him for more than one year. They would have paid him more than $1.75 million. Harris was a former first-round pick who had flamed out in Miami and fizzled in Atlanta. He had 6.5 sacks in four NFL seasons. He was a bust.
Now he's bursting off the line for the Lions. He's busting through guards and tackles. He blistered Kyler Murray and the Cardinals Sunday for 1.5 sacks and 12 total tackles, including three tackles for loss. Murray was run out of bounds by Harris on the Cardinals' first play of the game and spent the rest of the day on the run. Harris has more sacks (7.5) and as many QB pressures (47) this season as he had the past three seasons combined. The man has come here and worked.
"Just a testament to not giving up, keeping my faith and just knowing that this is what I do," Harris said. "And taking advantage of the opportunities, no matter how many plays it is. I didn’t start off the season starting, so it’s just being the best possible player I can for the guy next to me."
The Lions did feel good about Harris when they signed him. Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn and linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard believed they could harness his talent by putting it in better spots to shine. They were right. Harris has been Detroit's best defensive player and one of the 15 best pass-rushers in the NFL this year, according to Pro Football Focus. He's been a menace off the edge the way he was in college. He's only 26.
"Charles has been a relentless player for us all season long," Dan Campbell said Sunday. "He’s a nuisance to quarterbacks, but he plays the run as well. He’s a well-rounded defensive end, outside linebacker, if you will. He really showed up (today.)"
Now, where will Harris show up next season? Brad Holmes and the Lions would surely like to keep him, but the bargain's coming to an end. Something to consider: Romeo Okwara entered last season with 10 sacks in four NFL seasons, then exploded for 10 sacks in 16 games and landed a three-year, $39 million deal with the Lions in free agency. He probably could have found more had he gone searching, but his heart was in Detroit. Harris' might be, too.
He signed here because it reminded him of home, 'a rugged city' comprised of rugged people. Detroit also reminded Harris of himself, a proud player who'd fallen on hard times. He liked the idea of rebounding on a rebuilding team. He loves it now. Asked Sunday if he feels like he's part of something bigger than this season with the Lions, something long term, Harris said, "Indeed, definitely. Definitely."
"That’s all up to the lord as far as the future and all that kind of stuff, but man, I’m just enjoying it right here right now," he said. "Taking it every single day, every single game, every single practice and just enjoying the guys around me. Like they say, no team is ever the same the following year and the guys I got around me are great guys. Man, just doing everything I can for the team."
With or without Harris, the Lions should be better next year. They'll get back Okwara, who was worth every penny of that $37 million before a season-ending Achilles injury in Week 4, and they're likely to add another pass-rusher at the top of the draft. The defense with the third fewest sacks in the NFL over the past two seasons might actually pose a threat to the quarterback. (By the way, the Falcons have the fewest. Don't you think they could use Harris?)
With Harris, dare we say Detroit's pass rush could be a strength. He aces the eye test when you watch him chase down and take down Murray, maybe the most elusive quarterback in the game. Prefer Lamar Jackson? Harris got him back in Week 3. And his statistical grades are strong. Harris ranks 14th among edge defenders in pass rush win rate, per PFF, one spot behind Shaq Barrett. He ranks eighth in pass rush win rate in true passing sets, one spot behind Joey Bosa. He has one fewer QB pressure this season than T.J. Watt.
"Just keep doing it," he said. "That's really what it is. I haven’t really taken the time to sit back and reflect. I will at the end of the season, but man, just doing the little things and believing in myself and the guys around me."
Founded in 1889, Carhartt's original slogan reads a bit like Harris’ first season with the Lions: “Honest value for an honest dollar.” Harris has found himself in Detroit, where's he earned an honest dollar. For an honest value, the Lions will have to start paying him more.