The pandering of the New England Patriots by the media is enough to make me gag every NFL season. But if there's one thing I'm really getting sick and tired of hearing about, it's James Harrison. It seems as if everywhere I turn, everyone is talking about him. Be it Patriots people or Steelers Nation, or the player himself (who commented on the catering for flights of all things), the comments are enough to make my eyes roll.
Then there's the line: SportsBetting.ag lines for football have the Patriots as 4.5 point favorites this Sunday. As if returning to the Super Bowl wasn't bad enough, the Patriots are considered favorites, So, worse yet, the thing that makes me swallow my own throw up the most is this false narrative of James Harrison not only joining the defending champions, but his supposed "impact" with the Patriots and how the Steelers should've never gotten rid of him.
There. I said it.
And it had to be said. Some fans are just way too nostalgic about how great players used to be. They believe anyone that was once a star still is. Some of these same people commenting on how great Harrison still is would still bring back Hines Ward or Troy Polamalu if they were in charge. Heck, they might try to field "Mean" Joe or Jack Lambert too!
Then there's another segment of the fanbase who believe every other team's discard pile should be signed by the Steelers. How many people wanted Pittsburgh to sign Darrelle Revis (or any other random cornerback) last offseason? Some were still carrying the torch for 34-year-old DeAngelo Williams too.
Sometimes, you just need to know when to let go. I totally get the legacy of a player, and I can appreciate that. By the same token, you also have to know when it's time to say goodbye. That can be a sensitive subject with some players. Ward was still fishing around for another team in free agency before calling it quits and Polamalu hasn't appeared in public for Pittsburgh since severing ties a few seasons ago. Each may have felt they still had something to offer, but the business side of football operations wasn't willing to take on the potential risks.
That's where the Steelers stood with James Harrison recently. He became a liability instead of an asset and a business decision was made to grant the linebacker his wish and release him mid-December.
The news wasn't without backlash. Rather than acknowledge it was time to part ways, fans started coming to Harrison's defense. They ignored current Steelers comments about Harrison's off-field behavior in team meetings and his lack of enthusiasm in helping younger players on the practice field. No would would admit that Harrison was being phased out anyway. They started pointing fingers at the organization for letting Harrison go. They felt the Steelers allowed Bill Belichick to acquire a "spy" who would bring the Steelers down like a house of cards. Others truly felt the team didn't utilize "Deebo" in the right capacity and that the Patriots were going to unearth some sort of superhero by adding the 39-year-old.
Then Week 17 happened. Harrison ended up playing with the Patriots after limited time with the team and apparently made an "impact".
However, I'd argue that his impact has been minimal at best. Consider that his addition didn't help the team win their division or make the playoffs. The Patriots had already won 12 games and were already in the postseason by virtue of winning the AFC East before Harrison was cut by the Steelers.
Harrison dropped some nice stats in his debut with the Patriots, but you have to admit that the team had nothing to gain or lose against a lowly New York Jets team fielding Bryce Petty as their starting quarterback. While Harrison brought down Petty twice, the QB was sacked two other times in the same game. He was also sacked four other times in two other starts (where he also threw three interceptions). Petty and the Jets were hardly a measuring stick for any "impact" Harrison might have going forward. If anything, had Harrison stuck around and played for the Steelers in Week 17 against the Cleveland Browns, he may have had the same performance.
That was part of the argument, but it wasn't a solution for the future. Looking back on the Patriots next two games, both in the postseason, Harrison has done little to nothing else. He's credited with a single quarterback hit and six combined tackles in both games.
Despite the cheering from CBS analyst Tony Romo, Harrison wasn't credited with any of the New England's three sacks in the AFC Championship game, nor was he responsible for stripping Jaguars QB Blake Bortles of the football.
Worse yet, his production looks paltry when you take into account that the Patriots sacked Titans QB Marcus Mariota eight times in their Divisional Round game.
None of those sacks came from the Steelers all-time sacks leader, yet Steelers fans were quick to point out that Harrison somehow had an impact on the game. Those who believe he helped to collapse the pocket are among the same group who are calling Bud Dupree a "draft bust" for not getting to the quarterback, despite his plays ending in a similar result. (You can't have your cake and eat it too!)
Harrison's main gripe for leaving town was that he wanted to play. He got his wish, as he has received playing time with the Patriots; more than he had with the Steelers during the 2017 season (which wasn't hard to do seeing as he barely played). However, the linebacker's snap counts aren't out of line with how he was previously incorporated by Keith Butler and company. In his three games with New England, Harrison has played 27, 30, and 32 snaps. Those numbers aren't dissimilar to his playing time with the Steelers in 2016, where, outside of three games, Harrison generally saw about half of the defensive snaps.
If he was picturing about the same in 2017, I can see why he was quick to return and all too eager to complain about his usage. However, the writing had been on the wall for years. He was let go once, brought back in a rotation, and all but a situational part-time player up until this season.
Harrison now appears to be the same part-time player in New England. And while seeing that he is marginally registering on the stat sheet, I would argue that the Steelers had in fact made the right decision. Yet, I'll still feel a bit bitter about the way he left and his choice to join the "enemy". Granted, I'm sure he'll feel vindicated if he wins a Super Bowl ring. At the same time, I'll be eating my own words if the Patriots win because of Harrison, rather than in spite of him.
Regardless of Sunday's outcome, I'm not sure how proud someone could be of playing only four games for a championship team, especially if your biggest impact with them ends up being two sacks on Bryce Petty.