Looking Back on Steelers’ Decision to Release James Harrison

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All things must pass, or get released, or something like that. James Harrison’s time in Pittsburgh was no exception. On Saturday the Pittsburgh Steelers released the five time Pro Bowler and former Defensive Player of the Year, as the two sides could not come to a new, more cap friendly agreement.

Both sides saw this move coming a mile away, and although they tried in vain, there was little they could do to make Harrison and his onerous $7.6M cap hit work. By releasing Harrison the Steelers have cleared $5.1M in cap space.

It was an amicable parting, as both sides knew there was little they could do to avoid the move. There was a feeling this move was all but avoidable, and there are no burnt bridges. Harrison said after his being released that he’s “grateful to the Steelers and the greatest fans in the world”, while also acknowledging that his time is over by adding that this “chapter is closed and it’s time to move on”.

Harrison will best be remembered for his often questionable, and always punishing hits. His penchant for timely sacks and nearly unblockable rushing made him arguably the league’s best pass rusher for many years. These hits also made him the boogeyman in Roger Goodell’s never ending attempts to clean up the game. A role he relished all too well, calling the commissioner in an interview for a magazine article a “crook” and also, a “devil”. He posed for the cover of that magazine wielding two pistols, and labeled “Hit Man”.

What Harrison will best be remembered for though is his 100 yard interception for a touchdown in his first Super Bowl as a starter with the Steelers. On what was supposed to be a blitz, Harrison (in somewhat undisciplined fashion) didn’t like what he saw. Harrison dropped back into coverage, after showing blitz before the snap, and intercepted Kurt Warner right from the goal line. After evading nearly all 11 of Arizona’s players, and some of his own teammates, Harrison was tackled into the endzone. It could very well be one of the best plays in Super Bowl history, and I’m sure it’s one that neither the Steelers faithful nor Harrison himself will soon forget.

This is the sad reality of the salary cap era. It is becoming increasingly difficult for teams to justify keeping costly aging stars, especially with the new rules on rookie contracts. More and more emphasis is being placed on the draft.

The good news for the Steelers is that Harrison’s likely replacement, Jason Worilds, has to be ready for the task. They invested a 2nd round pick in Worilds in the 2010 draft, and he had to get his chance to start eventually. With Harrison`s production in steep decline, along with his health over the last two seasons, some consolation can be found in knowing his replacement only had one less sack last season. Harrison had 6 sacks starting in 13 games, to Worilds’ 5 sacks in 16. Most importantly, it has to be taken into account that Worilds didn’t start all 16 games. Some he was a rotational player. That’s about to change though, really quick like.

You can follow J.D. Burke: @JDBurkeOV

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