Saturday, March 9, 2013

Steelers Release James Harrison

Coming into the offseason there was a pretty big elephant in the room and that was James Harrison. Harrison, who is one of the best at his position, was making a lot of money at the age of 35 with chronic back problems that have cost him a lot of games over the past two seasons and the Steelers needed to make the decision if they were going to pay that money, and cap hit, for the next two season. They decided today that they weren't going to.

This is a really tough thing to process if you are a Steelers fan. On one hand the Steelers are cutting a guy who recorded 64 sacks in 134 games over ten seasons but at the same time he has missed eight games over the past two seasons and recorded only 15 sacks while being paid over $6.5 million in base salary and coming in at over $10 million on the cap charge. For the money he was being paid he wasn't getting the job done. Whether it was the declining play on the field or the time missed due to injury the Steelers were at an impasse on what to do with Harrison and the decision came down to paying Harrison for probably one more year and seeing what happens or cutting him before it got worse. The Steelers made the choice to cut their losses and let Harrison go.

As I said before Harrison gave the Steelers some unreal years. I mean he was cut by the Steelers three times after being an undrafted signee and then was picked up by the Baltimore Ravens, sent to play in Europe for the Rhein Fire before being cut by the Ravens. The Steelers then picked him back up in 2004 and he was a monster ever since.

In 2007 Harrison really put it all together with 16 sacks in 15 games played and then followed with ten and 10.5 sacks the next two years. He was pretty much unblockable and the focal point of Steelers defenses that just dominated the opposition. He was named the 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year and in the Super Bowl in 2009 might have made one of the best plays ever in the Super Bowl.

Harrison is one of the best Steelers linebackers in history which is nothing to bat your eyes at. He was one of the best players in the NFL at his position, and in the league, and he really came from nothing. He worked hard and was the true definition of a badass. He was made the poster child of the NFL with some of his hits and while some (most) of them were earned he was one of the baddest players on the field.

That is what makes it so hard for Steelers fans. He did everything you asked of him and were a part of some of the best defenses in the modern NFL. He was a feared pass rusher and while he was injured for a large part of last season he still led the team in sacks. He is 35 and in the NFL players don't typically age well. It was time but that doesn't make it any easier. If there is one thing people don't like it is change. When that change happens to your team and involves one of the icons of the team then that is a hard pill to swallow. It might come as a shock to some but I think deep down that most people knew this was a pretty clear possibility.

I think when it comes down to it this was the right move to make. The Steelers have been trying to get younger and with guys like Keenan Lewis needing to get paid I am not sure the right thing to do is to have $10M in cap space tied up in a player that hasn't been able to stay on the field and has been getting more streaky as the years have gone on. He was a fan favorite and a huge part of two Super Bowl winning teams but eventually it was going to happen. I would rather it happen a little early than a little late.

Releasing Harrison does leave a hole in the Steelers defense where they are not particularly deep. I hope this doesn't mean that the Steelers are going to reach for a rush linebacker in the first round of the draft but that is always a possibility. When the Steelers let Joey Porter go it was sort of the same situation and they ended up having a plan and it worked out pretty damn well. I assume the Steelers have a plan this time and here is hoping it is a good one. If history is any indication then the Steelers do have a plan and it will be better than anything I can come up with.

At the end of the day James Harrison is gone. He has been a great Steelers linebacker for many years. I am sure going to miss him chasing after quarterbacks and while I understand it is a move that had to be made that doesn't mean it isn't a sad day. Thanks for all the great memories Mr. Harrison, you will always be a Steeler.

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