The Pittsburgh Steelers released outside linebacker James Harrison, the franchise’s all-time sack leader, on Saturday in a move that they probably should have made for his sake some time ago. And the New England Patriots should be paying close attention.
Harrison was surpassed on the depth chart by a handful of younger, more coverage-oriented outside linebacker and had spent most of the 2017 season in limbo on the 53-man roster but not on the 46-man dress roster on Sundays as a healthy scratch.
He expressed remorse about choosing to re-up with the Steelers this offseason and has expressed a clear desire to actually play somewhere else. And now he’s hoping he’ll get that chance, according to ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler.
The Patriots would certainly seem to make a lot of sense.
New England’s pass rush has been lacking at times throughout the season and Harrison can still provide situational value off the edge. It’s not an ideal fit schematically because Harrison has played primarily with his hand up as an outside linebacker and the Patriots use a lot of base 4-3 and would want his hand on the ground most of the time.
Still, if you’re looking to find 12-15 snaps of “go get the quarterback” a game it’s hard to imagine there’s anybody available on the open market who is better suited for the job. And then there’s the added value of Steelers intelligence.
Loyalty has always been important for Harrison and it’s hard to tell if being phased out is enough for him to willingly spill the beans to their primary rivals for conference supremacy. However, playing time, a chance to win a title and a chance to prove to the Steelers coaching staff that the can still play has to be somewhat appealing.
With the Patriots and Steelers seemingly destined for another clash in the AFC Championship game, signing Harrison would allow Bill Belichick to crawl inside Mike Tomlin’s head in more ways than one.
It’s hard to say exactly how realistic it might be for Harrison to land with New England, but in so many senses it would be the best possible scenario. It’d add an enormous amount of drama to one of the best rivalries in the NFL and would afford a legend a chance at a storybook ending after he’d been written off.
Doesn’t that sound like fun?
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