Why James Harrison Isn't Finished in the NFL Just Yet

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystMarch 26, 2013

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 18:   James Harrison #92 of the Pittsburgh Steelers reacts to sacking Tarvaris Jackson #7 of the Seattle Seahawks during the game on September 18, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The Steelers defeated the Seahawks 24-0.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

After 10 seasons in the Steel City, five Pro Bowls and 64 career sacks it appears that linebacker James Harrison's time with the Pittsburgh Steelers has come to an end.

However, that doesn't necessarily mean that the same can be said about the 34-year-old's NFL career.

As Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette reported Tuesday, the Steelers have informed Harrison, who was released on March 9 after he and the team could not agree on a reduced salary for this season, that "they no longer are interested in him playing for them in 2013."

Bouchette points out that there's always the chance that the Steelers could change their minds, but it appears that just as with Joey Porter before him, the always pragmatic Steelers are moving on.

That would seemingly close the book on a career in Pittsburgh that saw Harrison go from undrafted free agent to one of the National Football League's most feared pass rushers and the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year.

The Steelers may be done with Harrison, but that doesn't mean that the veteran doesn't still have some tread left on his tires.

Granted, Harrison's best football may be behind him, and he's missed eight games over the past two seasons, but when he's been on the field Harrison has still been a more than effective player.

Over those two seasons Harrison has accrued 15 sacks and four forced fumbles. In 2012 Pro Football Focus ranked Harrison 10th overall among 3-4 outside linebackers, and 3rd at his position against the run.

He hasn't been as statistically effective getting after the quarterback as he was from 2008-2010, when he accrued double-digit sacks in three straight seasons, but as recently as 2011 Pro Football Focus ranked Harrison second at his position in pass rushing productivity, which "measures pressure created on a per snap basis with weighting toward sacks."

Not only that, but as you can see from the following table, prior to last year Harrison was remarkably consistent when it came to making quarterbacks miserable.































Yes, Harrison's numbers dropped fairly significantly last year, but it's worth noting that he battled a knee injury all season long, admitting to Joe Starkey of The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in November that he "didn't believe [he'd] be able to get back to 100 percent, health-wise." until the 2013 season.

If that's the case, and James Harrison is an aging but still effective player, then why so little interest? Why, outside of a visit to Baltimore that was nixed when the Ravens signed Elvis Dumervil, has Harrison been the "coldest" name in free agency according to Peter King of Sports Illustrated?

There are a couple of reasons, and the first is likely the same reason that motivates 95 percent of the decisions made in the National Football League.


Just because there hasn't been much chatter around Harrison, doesn't mean that teams haven't at least put out feelers. However, if Harrison or his agent think he's going to make anywhere near the $6.5 million he was set to be paid by the Steelers in 2013, then those were probably very short phone calls.

There's also the not-so-small matter of Harrison's numerous off-field incidents.

There was the 2008 domestic violence arrest. His 2009 refusal to visit the White House after the Steelers won Super Bowl XLIII because "[President Obama] would have invited Arizona." if they won.

Then there was Harrison's infamous appearance in a July, 2011 edition of Men's Journal. In an article by Paul Solotaroff titled "Diary of a Hitman" Harrison posed shirtless holding two handguns, called NFL commissioner Roger Goodell "a crook and a puppet", and used a gay slur to describe him.

Harrison apologized for that slur and for criticizing his teammates in the article, but add all those incidents to the numerous fines that Harrison has racked up on the field over his career (which motivated at least part of his "hatred" for Goodell) and many NFL teams may have already decided that a 34-year-old situational pass rusher isn't worth a 34-year-old situational hothead.

With that said, there are also going to be teams out there willing to take that chance, assuming the price is right. Several NFL teams are making the switch to a 3-4 front in 2013. Several others are looking for pass rush help.

It may take a while, and frankly it may come down to whether James Harrison is willing to play another season for half (or less) of what he expected to make this year.

If he is, some team will come calling.

And that team just might be getting a bargain in the process.


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