Posted on December 23, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
With two games left in the regular season, the Pittsburgh Steelers have parted ways with their all-time sack leader. In a surprise move, the Steelers cut veteran James Harrison on Saturday afternoon. The move was designed to open up space on the roster for offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert. In the end, releasing Harrison has more to do with Pittsburgh’s roster needs moving toward the end of the season. But cutting ties with one of the team’s best defensive players of all time is obviously a big deal.
Harrison’s agent, Bill Parise, says that his client and the Steelers have parted on good terms. The 39-year old Harrison has been understandably frustrated with his limited role in the defense this season. Parise also says that Harrison would like to keep playing. It’s obviously too soon to tell if any team will look to sign him before the end of the regular season.
“There was no animosity or bad feelings. It’s just the business of the NFL,” said Parise. “I believe he still wants to play. We’ll have to wait and see what happens with waivers.”
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In 2014, Harrison returned to the Steelers after one season with the Bengals for his third stint in Pittsburgh. Despite more of a part-time role, he picked up where he left off, recording at least five sacks in each of the past three years. But he’s struggle to reain any role on Pittsburgh’s defense this season with Father Time perhaps starting to catch up with him.
Through 14 games, Harrison has played just 40 snaps all season. He played nearly 600 snaps last season. Before playing 11 snaps in Week 14 against the Ravens, Harrison had not played a snap since Week 7. In his limited playing time this season, Harrison has just three tackles and one sack.
It’s not necessarily a case of Harrison’s abilities all of a sudden diminishing. The Steelers simply have other options at outside linebacker. Rookie T.J. Watt, a 1st-round pick, has emerged as a starter for the Steelers, accumulating six sacks on the season. Meanwhile, Bud Dupree has taken ownership of the other outside linebacker position. Arthur Moats and Anthony Chickillo are providing the Steelers with depth at outside linebacker, leaving little need for Harrison.
From here, Harrison will be put on waivers, allowing any team to pick him up. It wouldn’t be surprised to see a playoff-bound team make a waiver claim on Harrison. Even if he only plays a part-time role, he could provide valuable leadership for any team about to enter the playoffs. Harrison has won two Super Bowls as a member of the Steelers. His most memorable moment came in Super Bowl XLIII when he had a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown.
If Harrison goes unclaimed on waivers, it’s possible the Steelers will re-sign him early next week. However, there’s no guarantee that he ends up with the Steelers or any other team. In fact, it’s possible he’s played his last snap in the NFL. Of course, he remains optimistic that his career isn’t over. As Parise said of Harrison’s release: “We’ll see what Santa brings us.”