Break-ups are never good. Some go better than others, but there are always hurt feelings, and typically someone is wrong.
That’s how you could probably describe the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ decision to officially release linebacker James Harrison. It wasn’t totally unexpected, but perhaps the timing of it was.
Harrison had been with the Steelers for 10 seasons after going undrafted. He was on and off of the Steelers practice squad, was released multiple times early in his career, and even did a stint in NFL Europe.
It wasn’t until the 2007 season that Harrison finally cracked the starting lineup for the Steelers, due in large part to the release of linebacker Joey Porter and the resignation of longtime head coach Bill Cowher, who was never sold on Harrison as a full-time player.
From 2007-2010, Harrison was one of the top linebackers in the NFL, and his ability to rush the passer in the Steelers 3-4 defense made him a terror for quarterbacks. He was even named the defensive player of the year for the 2008 season and, for my money, is the central figure in the greatest Super Bowl play in Steelers history as he returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals.
But for all the great memories, the NFL is still a business, and the Steelers and Harrison couldn’t come to a business agreement acceptable for both sides.
Harrison was coming off back-to-back mediocre seasons littered with injuries, and the Steelers were in salary cap Hell. Several veteran players had chosen to re-structure their contracts to give the team salary cap relief, but Harrison was not to be one of them.
This ultimately cost him a spot on the team. Ideally, it would have been nice if the Steelers could have waited until after June 1 when the cap savings would have been more significant, but Harrison is gone regardless, off to chase a big contract with what will likely be a bad football team, while his skills continue to diminish as he ages. Buyer beware, I say.