The writing was already on the wall for James Harrison/Steelers split

For fans who were bent out of shape about the Steelers letting go of Harrison in December, they may have forgotten that the team did just that in 2013 when the linebacker wouldn’t agree to a pay cut. He languished in free agency until the Bengals hired him for one year.

With his lackluster stint in Cincinnati, Harrison signed a one-day contract with the Steelers and announced his retirement in September 2014, only to be lured out of it and brought back to the active roster weeks later as an injury to Jarvis Jones left the team’s linebacker depth in limbo. It was a surprising move for several reasons. Not only was Harrison heading into retirement due to lack of interest around the league in the then 36-year-old player, but he was a year removed from balking about his contract. His production had slipped and injuries took their toll, but now he was headed back to familiar territory on a veteran minimum deal.

As we all know now, Harrison came back and had some success in a linebacker rotation over the course of the next three seasons. Many people weren’t sure he was going to return in 2016, holding his announcement to the eleventh hour while posting videos of his crazy workouts.

“Deebo” decided to come back at age 38, and wasted no time in announcing he’d return in 2017 at age 39. Anyone not living under a rock realized that he could no longer be a full-time player. In fact, he rarely was since his return from retirement. In 2014 he (literally) split time with Arthur Moats as Jones played 1/5 of the team’s total defensive snaps. (Jason Worilds, however, rarely left the field that season.) The same pattern would follow with Harrison, Moats, Jones, and rookie Bud Dupree in 2015, and then again in 2016 when the team vowed to no longer rotate the position but were forced to when Dupree started the season on IR.

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That’s where the saga of James Harrison in 2017 confuses me. His claim is that he was promised a specific role when he signed a two-year extension in March. However, he had to know the team would be seeking his eventual heir… and they did, drafting T.J. Watt in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. What no one knew at that time is how well Watt would play as a rookie. Watt’s ascension, along with Harrison landing on the injury report, kept the latter off of the field. Apparently, he was unhappy with his role, as reports and comments would surface about his lack of playing time.

Then, before you knew it, Harrison was released following the Steelers Week 15 loss to the New England Patriots, so they could make room for Marcus Gilbert (who was returning from a four-game suspension).

The news rocked the city of Pittsburgh, but it was Harrison’s next move which made even bigger waves: signing with the New England Patriots. The move was seen as low brow for several reasons. First, it looked like an obvious grab for Bill Belichick and company to get a Steelers “spy”. It also appeared to be a move made out of spite, a literal “I’ll show them” by Harrison.

Personally, I can respect Harrison’s decision to not want to waste, what could be, his last season sitting on the bench. What I don’t respect is his cherry-picking of going to a Super Bowl contender, particularly one in direct competition with the team (Pittsburgh) who gave him the opportunities he’s had throughout his career.

While he justified the move as one for “he and his family” he joined the Patriots for next to nothing. NFL players are paid by the week and for someone already worth millions, making close to sixty grand for a single game (all that was left on the Patriots schedule when he signed) didn’t appear to make sense.

Instead, for someone who made negative comments about “participation trophies” in the past, his move to New England reeks of the very thing he despised.

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