The Buffalo Bills are adding to their wide receiver room.
A league source Wednesday told The Buffalo News the team has agreed to a two-year contract with former New Orleans Saints receiver/return specialist Deonte Harty. The deal, according to the source, includes $5 million in guarantees and has a maximum potential value of $13.5 million. It can't become official until after the start of the NFL's new league year, which comes at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
Harty is a 5-foot-6, 170-pounder who signed with the Saints as an undrafted free agent out of Division II Assumption University. As a rookie, he exploded on the scene by being named a first-team All-Pro, making the Pro Bowl and being named a consensus All-Rookie selection after finishing fourth in the NFL in punt return average (36 returns for 338 yards, 9.4 yards per attempt, one touchdown) and third in kickoff return average (24 attempts for 644 yards, an average of 26.8 yards per attempt).
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He appeared in just nine games in 2020, missing one game because of a hamstring injury and the final six games of the regular season because of a neck injury. Despite that, he still averaged 2.2 yards per punt return and 27.3 yards per kick return, and made strides as a receiver, catching 20 passes for 186 yards and a touchdown. Harty returned from IR in time for the Saints' wild-card playoff win over Chicago, leading the team with seven catches for 83 yards. The following week in the NFC divisional round against Tampa Bay, he returned the Buccaneers' first punt of the game 54 yards to set up a New Orleans field goal. On Tampa Bay's second punt, Hardy went 67 yards to the end zone, but the touchdown was nullified by a New Orleans penalty.
The best season of Harty's career came in 2021, when he played in 13 games and finished with 36 catches for 570 yards and three touchdowns. He finished seventh in the NFL with 15.8 yards per catch, and averaged 9.2 yards per punt return and 23.8 yards per kickoff return.
Harty's 2022 season was cut short by a significant turf toe injury that limited him to just four games. He caught two passes for 13 yards and returned three punts for 8 yards and six kickoffs for 137 yards.
Harty's contract contains a $2.75 million signing bonus and a guaranteed base salary of $2 million in 2023. He also has $250,000 of his $2.625 million base salary for 2024 guaranteed for injury, which accounts for the guarantees in the deal. His cap hit in 2023 is scheduled to be $3.745 million in 2023 and $5.365 million in 2024. Even by NFL standards, Harty's contract is complex.
According to sports financial website Spotrac, he has per-game active bonus of $30,000 in 2023, of which four of them are classified as "likely to be earned" based on the number of games Hardy played last season. As such, that $120,000 counts against the salary cap. Harty can earn a maximum of $510,000 in per-game active bonuses if he plays all 17 games. If he does, the Bills would be charged an additional $390,000 against the salary cap. In 2024, Hardy's per-game active bonus increases to $45,000 per game, giving him the opportunity to $765,000.
In 2024, Harty has several escalator incentives in his deal, allowing him to earn up to $2 million more. Those incentives are for catches ($100,000 for 30 catches, $200,000 for 40 and $300,000 for 50), receiving yards ($100,000 for 300 yards, $200,000 for 400 yards, $300,000 for 500 yards and $400,000 for 600 yards), yards per punt return average ($100,000 for 9.5 yards, $150,000 for 10 yards and $250,000 for 10.5 yards) and total touchdowns ($100,000 for three, $250,000 for five, $350,000 for seven and $500,000 for nine). Additionally, Hardy has offensive playing time incentives in 2024. He can earn $100,000 for playing 30% of the offensive snaps, $150,000 for playing 35% and $200,000 for playing 40%). If the Bills win the Super Bowl and Hardy plays at least 40% of the offensive snaps, he'd earn a $100,000 incentive. Lastly, if he's named an All-Pro or Pro Bowler on the initial ballot, he'd earn $250,000.
Given all of those incentives come in 2024, it's essentially a one-year, prove-it deal for Harty. Despite his obvious size limitations, Harty has been utilized both out wide and in the slot on offense. According to analytics website Pro Football Focus, Harty has lined up out wide 226 times in his career and 165 times in the slot. One big concern is he's fumbled nine times in his career, although all of them have come on special teams.