Shelby Harris recounts playing on day of son’s birth — and addresses his future with the Broncos

Since re-upping with the Broncos on a one-year, $3.1 million deal in March, Shelby Harris has seen his market value increase — and gone through an emotional ringer — while turning in a career season.

The defensive end was one of Denver’s best players through the first half of 2020 before the Pro Bowl resume he was building got derailed by coronavirus, which sidelined him for four games. By the time he returned, the Broncos were out of playoff contention and his wife, Stephanie, was nearing the birth of their fourth child.

That child, Shelby Lamar Harris Jr., ended up being born roughly five hours after the conclusion of the Broncos’ loss in Los Angeles this past Sunday. Harris rushed out of the stadium, got a police escort to the airport and then took a private plane to Denver to get back in time for his son’s birth.

“It was pretty crazy,” Harris recalled Tuesday. “I got woken up at 7 in the morning (on Sunday in Los Angeles) by Ray (Jackson), our player personnel guy. He was banging on my door — I guess my wife had been calling me and I was knocked out. But she called him because her water broke, and I finally got on the phone with her and we just tried to figure out a plan.”

Harris and his wife crunched the pregnancy math, estimating by her morning contractions just how long they had until their son arrived. Also complicating the couple’s decision was the hospital’s COVID-related rule on only having one “support person” in the room during the birth. If Harris played but didn’t make it back to Denver in time, Stephanie would have to have a substitute in the room with her. Or if Harris did make it to the hospital at the last-second after the sub came in, there was some question as to whether he would’ve been allowed in the room.

“Those were all things I was worrying about,” Harris said. “At the end we decided it would be best for me to stay (and play) and get back after it.”

Harris posted four tackles, two pass deflections and a quarterback hit in the 19-16 loss to the Chargers. It was another solid performance by the 29-year-old who’s recorded 20 tackles, seven pass deflections, 2.5 sacks and one forced fumble over 11 games this year. Harris’ cumulative performance built on his successful 2019, when he emerged as a pillar on the Denver defensive line while starting all 16 games for the first time in his career.

“I feel like I’m just hitting my stride,” Harris said. “I’ve just felt a little different this year. I felt like I had something to prove and I took that mindset into the offseason, and I’m taking that mindset into everything I do now.”

That stride was disrupted this year due to COVID. Harris originally missed the Week 9 game in Atlanta after his wife came down with the virus, and then eventually tested positive for the virus himself. The struggle to get back into game shape after being out of the sport for a month has been real.

“The most challenging of everything is that I really felt like I was on a roll before I got COVID,” Harris said. “Then there was the mental roller-coaster of having my whole family get it, my pregnant wife, my kids. That was really crazy. And trying to come back from COVID was a mental process in itself. I got out of my groove.”

An unrestricted free agent this offseason, Harris could very well be playing his last game for the Broncos this Sunday at Empower Field against the Raiders, the team that originally drafted him in the seventh round in 2014 out of Illinois State.

Asked if returning to the Broncos is a priority, Harris sidestepped.

“I don’t care about the market, and I’ve got nothing to do with the market — that’s my agent’s job. My job is to go out there and play football,” Harris said. “Last year (heading into free agency), I got caught up in listening to too much stuff.

“Staying in Denver would obviously mean the world. My family loves Denver, I love Denver and Denver’s done nothing but do right by me since I’ve been here. I love it here, but at the end of the day, I understand it’s a business and you’ve got to be ready for everything.”