FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Tight end Clay Harbor enters his seventh NFL season in 2016, which means he’s seen plenty of teammates lost to injuries. But that doesn’t make it any easier to accept.
“It’s tough, especially for a guy like Michael, who is hard-working; you see him in the weight room every day. He studies and does everything right,” Harbor said. “It’s just a bad break. That’s how it happens sometimes and our prayers go out to him and his family. I know Mike is going to work hard to recover and become better some way out of it. It’s tough, it’s part of football, but it’s always hard to see.”
One of the trickle-down effects of Williams’ injury is that Harbor, 28, could find himself in a better position to ultimately stick on the New England Patriots’ final 53-man roster.
In one recent practice, he split off to a side field with quarterback Tom Brady and fellow tight end Martellus Bennett as they worked on routes into the end zone, which reflected how he's currently closer to the top of the depth chart than the bottom.
The 6-foot-3, 250-pound Harbor fits a different profile than the two top tight ends on the depth chart, Rob Gronkowski (6-foot-6, 265 pounds) and Bennett (6-6, 273). He was used in a variety of roles over his last three seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars, including at fullback.
“He’s a versatile guy, done a lot of different things,” coach Bill Belichick said, also noting Harbor’s experience in the kicking game. “Professional. Works hard.”
Harbor entered the NFL as a fourth-round draft choice of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2010 out of Missouri State, and has 111 career receptions for 1,151 yards and eight touchdowns. He remembers speaking with the Patriots at the combine, but other than that there wasn’t a strong connection with the organization prior to this offseason, when the Patriots signed him to a two-year deal that could be worth up to $4 million, and included a $400,000 signing bonus.
“There were other options out there, pretty similar monetary values. What it came down to was pretty much the opportunity to play at such a storied and great franchise, to play for some of the best coaches in the league, to be able to play with some of the best players in the league. And to just win,” he said.
“I love the places I’ve been, but we haven’t had the best of luck as far as winning and I’d like to, as my career grows older going into year seven, it’s really about winning and where I have the best option to do that.”
Over three years with the Eagles and another three with the Jaguars, Harbor has experienced one winning season in the NFL (a 10-6 campaign as a rookie with the Eagles) as his teams have posted an overall record of 34-62.
Entering the final week of organized team activities in New England, Harbor has liked the fit to this point.
“They have that reputation as a hard-working, very professional, business-oriented organization. It didn’t disappoint. It’s a great place to work, a great climate to learn and to get better,” he said. “Everyone is going to push themselves and compete. That’s what we’ve been doing out here.”