All throughout the country Wednesday afternoon, NFL football franchises were busy signing free agents in order to add quality players to their respective teams. The Jacksonville Jaguars, a team in flux on the offensive side of the ball were no different, bringing in running back Toby Gerheart and offensive guard Zane Beadles.
That was good news to Dwight native Clay Harbor, especially since the tight end had already elected to re-sign with the team last week, thus avoiding free agency.
“I like the offense here. I think it fit what I do,” Harbor said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “I feel that I have a good role there with the team.”
Harbor signed late last week along with offensive linemen Cameron Bradfield and Sam Young and the next day quarterback Chad Henne re-signed with the team with a two-year deal. It assures that all three will be teammates again in 2014, only this time from the break of camp.
“We are pleased to get those three players under contract,” Jaguars general manager David Caldwell said. “All three have experience in our system and will compete on a daily basis. Cam Bradfield and Sam Young have the ability to play both tackle and guard positions while Clay Harbor provides us with a receiving threat at the tight end position and is a very good special team’s player. Our hopes are that they will continue to provide leadership for our younger players and progress as players.”
A fourth-round draft pick by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2010, Harbor played three seasons there before being released by the team on Aug. 31 – right before last season began. He was unemployed for exactly one day as Jacksonville put a claim in for him right away.
“I had to pick things up in a hurry last year since I got picked up during week one. That’s a really fast turnaround to learn an offense,” Harbor recalled. “But the coaches were patient, which is something I had never experienced before. Even when we started out 0-8, they were that way. Then we got things straightened out. I really feel like we have things turning around in Jacksonville.”
Playing for first year head coach Gus Bradley for the first time, Harbor and the rest of the Jaguars seemed to be learning on the fly under offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch. Harbor caught one pass in the opener – a 28-2 loss to Kansas City – and 12 passes in the first eight games. In their defense, the rough 0-8 start by Jacksonville is somewhat understandable because six of those eight losses came against eventual playoff teams.
Harbor said there was a defining moment for him during that bad stretch and it came in a 35-19 loss to Peyton Manning and the Super Bowl bound Denver Broncos.
“That game was 14-12 at halftime,” he said. “That was one of those points in the season where we knew we were capable of playing better.”
Going into that game, Jacksonville was established as a 28-point underdog against Manning’s Broncos – the largest in NFL history – but the Jaguars hung tight until Denver pulled away late.
Three weeks games later, Jacksonville got its first win of the season, a 29-27 win over Tennessee and the Jaguars went on to win three of the next four, as well.
For the season, Harbor caught 24 passes for 292 yards and he hauled in two TD passes. He said that Fisch used him all over the field from his tight end position in 2013.
“Yeah, I played a lot in the slot when I was in motion as the tight end,” he said. “I would also go from slot out wide to tight end, but I also played a lot on the line as well.”
Cory also said that he also got the chance to show that he is more than just a pass-catching tight end in the NFL.
“I take a lot of pride in my blocking,” he said. “I think it’s a mindset, and I am always going out to block as hard as I can. I feel like I am improving in that area every week.
Harbor was injured in the season finale for Jacksonville, breaking his ankle making a block in the season finale against the Indianapolis Colts. He had surgery in January and is slowly getting back to action.
“I’m just now getting back to doing the things I need to be doing,” he said. “But I’ll be ready for camp.”
Harbor said that he was aware that there was a market for his services in free agency this year but he wanted to stay put — especially when the Jaguars met his price.
“I never got to that point [of free agency] because Jacksonville came up from their original offer,” he said. “I think staying in Jacksonville is going to work out best for me.”
In five years in the NFL, Harbor has caught 71 passes for 713 yards and six TD and is hoping to add more to his stats line before it’s all said and done.
“I still love the game,” he said. “I’ve played five years and by the time this plays out I’d like to have played another five. Having 10 years in the league would be nice. That’s what I said I wanted to do when I first came into the league. As long as I stay healthy, I want to play as long as I can.”