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Last week, veteran linebacker David Harris officially announced his retirement. Harris is an extremely well-respected player, and tributes have poured in from ex-teammates, coaches and media members.
Harris had spent a disappointing final season with the New England Patriots, which saw him relegated to a reserve role, and inactive throughout the postseason. However, he spent his first decade with the Jets, establishing himself as one of the top linebackers in the NFL, and in team history.
Since the announcement, many people have suggested that Harris will be a good candidate to be inducted in the Jets' Ring of Honor, and he has a strong case to be considered.
Harris burst onto the scene with the Jets as a rookie in 2007. The second-round pick didn't play much early in the season, but then became a starter when Jonathan Vilma got injured. He recorded 17 tackles and a sack in his first career start against the Bills, then followed that up with 24 tackles in the following week's game. Despite starting only nine games, he finished the season with an impressive 127 tackles and five sacks. The sack total exceeded his total for his entire collegiate career, as he had rarely blitzed at Michigan.
In 2008, Harris bulked up to take over as the TED linebacker in Eric Mangini's scheme, and had a few injury problems that derailed his progress. However, his career was rejuvenated under Rex Ryan as the Jets had the league's number one defense in 2009, and made the first of two consecutive AFC conference championship appearances. In 2011, Harris posted a career-high four interceptions, and his first career touchdown while leading the Jets in tackles in each of his last five seasons with the team.
In assessing candidates for the Ring of Honor, there is inevitably going to be some recency bias, as more current fans will be familiar with Harris than some of the other great linebackers in team history. The late Larry Grantham is the only linebacker to be inducted so far, and deservedly so, but there are some other linebackers from the past who might be equally deserving of a spot.
Lance Mehl, who intercepted seven passes in 1983 and was a Pro Bowler in 1985, was perhaps a better player than Harris at his apex, but his career - and his prime - didn't last as long. Kyle Clifton had the same kind of longevity as Harris, but was never a pro bowler, and played much of his career as a good player on bad teams.
Mo Lewis has a strong case, though. He had a 12-year career, all with the Jets, was a three-time Pro Bowler, and one-time all-pro while having superior playmaking ability to Harris.
For his own part, while he was voted as second-team all-pro in 2009, Harris also never attended a Pro Bowl. However, that's not necessarily a prerequisite for the team's Ring of Honor. Wayne Chrebet never attended one either, but was honored in 2014. While Harris will be associated with the 2009 and 2010 teams, those were actually the only two times the Jets made the playoffs in his career.
That era was spearheaded by Harris and three first round picks from the 2006 and 2007 drafts, namely Nick Mangold, Darrelle Revis and D'Brickashaw Ferguson, and we'll probably see all four of those honored eventually, or maybe even together. Those three made 17 Pro Bowl appearances between them. However, you'd expect the Jets to wait a while before they honor Revis, to allow some of the bad sentiment that surrounded his departure to dissipate.
The other player from that era that should probably be considered ahead of Harris is Shaun Ellis, a two-time Pro Bowler who made the playoffs six times in his 11 seasons as a Jet, making a franchise record 12 postseason appearances.
Ultimately, the Ring of Honor was established in 2010 to commemorate former alumni. While players with great statistics, or who were key members of team-based achievements are worthy, there's equally room for fan favorites, and players who embody what it means to "play like a Jet". Harris is a player who obviously inspired his teammates with his hard work and consistency of performance, and seems to be deserving of this recognition at some point.
All the same, there are plenty of other great Jets from team history that shouldn't be forgotten in favor of the more recent standout contributors. Harris should deservedly take his place alongside some of these names in due time.